The mail matters in Hanamaulu

HANAMAULU — Eddie Sarita can still remember when his parents opened up post office box number 161 at the Hanamaulu Post Office more than 50 years ago.

That same box number, Sarita said, was passed down to his brother after his parents died and is something that is still important to him and other family members even though the old post office is no longer standing.

“We want to keep it, even if it’s just for sentimental purposes,” Sarita said. “There’s hardly any mail anymore but we still keep it.”

The Hanamaulu Trading Co. building, which housed the old post office branch for more than a century, burned to the ground on Dec. 14, 2012 after a large structure fire engulfed the wooden, two-story building on Kuhio Highway.

Since then, Sarita’s brother and nearly 300 post office box holders have had their mail redirected to the Lihue Post Office, but Sarita and other residents say they are afraid of losing their town’s identity if United States Postal Service officials don’t reopen the Hanamaulu Post Office.

“When we talk about the post office for Hanamaulu, we consider it as a part of the identity for Hanamaulu,” Sarita said during a public meeting Monday, hosted by the Hanamaulu Neighborhood Association, at King Kaumualii Elementary School. “Hanamaulu is not Lihue — it’s Hanamaulu. If you think about it, giving it up is like giving up a part of you.”

Hanamaulu resident Elli Ward said she first opened her post office box at the Hanamaulu branch nearly eight years ago and misses the pleasant experience and treatment that she used to receive there.

“Because I have family on the Mainland and we’re the only ones living here, (my husband and I) received packages often and the postmen that we have had over the years have lived here have always been very pleasant,” Ward said.

“It’s so nice and so personal because they know you. If you go there frequently, that person becomes a friend.”

Hanamaulu resident Juan “Johnny” Rabasa, a former Kaumakani Post Office postmaster, first opened his post office box at the Hanamaulu branch in 1985 and has been working over the past few months to save it from being formally shuttered. He’s written letters and called state legislators, Congressional representatives and state post office officials.

 It is something that, Rabasa said, everyone should do.

“Like it or not the post office is the very reason a town exists,” Rabasa said. “If you close that up, there’s no town.”

USPS Post Office Operations Manager Kevin Nakaoka said in a July 20 letter to area residents that the Hanamaulu Branch “was being reviewed due to declining office workload” before it was destroyed in the December fire. This decline, Nakaoka said, “may indicate that maintaining this facility is not warranted.”

He said a public meeting with postal representatives scheduled next week will help the organization create a formal proposal on the future of the post office.

“Our tentative plans will only lead to a formal proposal if we are satisfied that a maximum degree of regular and effective service can be provided,” Nakaoka said in the letter.

This public meeting will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 31 at The Lihue Annex, 3230 Kapule Highway.

For meeting information, contact Janice Shimizu at 808-423-3958.

For more information on Hanamaulu Post Office community efforts, contact Rabasa at 245-1625 or pmjr101@hotmail.com.

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