CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Postmaster Brenda Sparks knows she's going to lose her job soon, but that isn't what upsets her the most. On Friday, Sparks greeted each person by name as visitors dropped off and picked up mail at Hugheston's red-white-and-blue striped post office that's housed in a trailer in eastern Kanawha County.
"Local post offices are to make people get together and learn what's going on in the community and to socialize," Sparks said. "This is my community, too. I think there are other ways cuts can be done."
The Hugheston Post Office is one of 149 in West Virginia that the U.S. Postal Service will review for potential closure. About 85 of those locations are in the Southern part of the state. So far, 14 post offices have closed in the state, according to savethepostoffice.com.
When the Postal Service initially made the announcement in July, 150 post offices in West Virginia were on the list, but the office in the city of Stephenson, Wyoming County, has since been removed from the list, said Cathy Yarosky, spokeswoman for the Postal Service.
More than 3,600 retail postal facilities nationwide, mostly in rural areas, will be considered for closure, based on a study that measures factors such as need and community input.
On Dec. 13, the Postal Service agreed to delay further post office closings until May 15 in response to a group of senators asking them to add language to legislation that would halt closings for six months.
"These post offices have a social value," said Ruth Goldway, chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission [PRC], an independent government entity created by Congress to oversee the Postal Service. "Unfortunately, the Postal Service can't operate on social value. The communities operate on social value."
Before a post office is considered for closure, a number of criteria go into that decision, including hosting community meetings, Yarosky said. At the public meetings, Postal Service officials discuss a town's specific concerns and needs regarding its post office, she said.
"Would a Village Post Office be feasible for your particular town? Should we install collection boxes outside of your post office? It's a case-by-case basis. It's not a one-size-fits-all communication," Yarosky said.
Goldway, though, said the Postal Service has ignored the community's suggestions. Those who attend the community meetings think the Postal Service is not considering their opinion, she said. To save the Postal Service money, residents have suggested community fundraising to help pay the post office's rent, closing the office a few days per week, and deciding which post offices, if any, should stay open, she said.
"Those are the issues communities have raised in community meetings, and the Postal Service has not taken those into consideration," Goldway said Friday. "It's possible that they will take those into consideration and they could better explain why they are closing [a post office]."
At the community meeting for the Hugheston post office, Sparks said a good turnout of about 80 people stirred a heated discussion because "some felt like their questions weren't being answered."
At the small town's community meeting, Theodore Berry, who owns the trailer the post office resides in, offered to freeze the rent for the next 10 years to prevent the office from closing. Everyone at the meeting clapped for Berry, she said, although they haven't heard a response from the Postal Service about his offer.
About 10 miles away in the coal-mining town of Mammoth, Officer in Charge Andrea Lyons said only 30 people showed up for their community meeting, a group that should have been at least three times that size. Those who did attend expressed their concerns for the elderly. Many people don't have cars, let alone access to cellphone service or the Internet. One local man walks a mile to the post office to pick up his mail every day at 8 a.m., Lyons said, while some residents are in wheelchairs so mail carriers deliver prescriptions to their front door.
"They don't want the post office to close. They're pretty much outraged about it," Lyons said Friday. "They feel like there's nothing they can do, and they hope Congress will make a change."
Without a change, Lyons fears the worst for the small town.
"It's going to make Mammoth nonexistent at some point," she said.