Ever since ice formed on the ground, Lena Schornack is afraid to go out and get her mail.
The 86-year-old lives in a condominium on the east side of Aberdeen and is afraid of slipping on the ice and hurting herself. Her mail is not delivered to her door or at the end of her driveway, but to a community mailbox more than a third of a football field away.
Her concern was so strong that she applied for a special status from the United States Post Office during the winter. The status would change the way Schornack receives mail, having it delivered to her door instead of to the mailbox down the block.
Schornack's application for the winter was denied by the local postmaster. She appealed to the manager of post office operations in Sioux Falls and was denied again. In her final denial letter, Schornack was told the status was meant to give temporary assistance to customers and is meant for cases of extreme physical hardship.
"With you younger people, you really enjoy walking to the mailbox. When you're old, you're afraid of breaking a hip," Schornack said.
Schornack has osteoporosis, a condition that makes her bones brittle. When she has a cold, a violent cough is enough to crack her ribs, she said. Last winter, Schornack bent down to clean something up with a dustpan and when she stood up, she cracked her sternum.
While the distance to her mailbox is about a third of a football field, Schornack describes it as dangerous during the winter months. The path from her door to the mailbox has some patches of ice over it. While she said she could drive to pick up her mail, there's still a patch of ice in front of the mailbox.
In considering the application, the local postmaster looks at whether the individual has someone else within the household who can get the mail or the limitations of individuals living alone, said Richard Watkins, a spokesman for the post office in Kansas City, Mo.
Schornack is still able to walk, is able to get her mail during the drier months, is able to drive herself to the senior center and lives without assistance.
Watkins could not talk about the specifics of Schornack's application.
Homes built after 1978 had curbside mailboxes, and in the last 10 to 15 years, neighborhood delivery boxes have been used more, Watkins said.
Hardship cases are decided by the local postmaster, who knows the delivery route the best, he said.
"Really, what it boils down to is whether that customer can get his or her mail," Watkins said.
In the case that the status is granted, it is only temporary.
Schornack applied for the status last February, attaching a doctor's note that stated she had physical issues regarding osteoporosis and other factors. But the status was not granted until May, Schornack said. She received the service for three months. Schornack applied for the status again with the same doctor's note, knowing that she would need it again during the icy winter months. That's when she received the denial.
Applications for hardship status are examined on a case-by-case basis, Watkins said.
"We address each case individually because what we want to make sure of is that there is someone available to retrieve the mail," he said.
In Schornack's case, she was deemed capable of retrieving her mail, according to the final letter.
"The medical note you provided does not restrict your activity, indicate you are not mobile, or you cannot leave your home," it read. "You provided a statement on the back of your application that you drive from your garage to doctor's appointments, drive to the mailbox to retrieve your mail and drive to the Senior Citizen Center once a week if the menu is something you prefer. You state that you do not do this in the winter, but that is a choice, not a restriction. I regret that based on the information provided, we cannot approve you for door delivery of your mail."
Schornack is still not getting her mail on her own, instead asking a neighbor to pick it up for her twice a week.
"Just one fall would be the end of me. I just think there should be some prevention," she said.
Because she is not getting her mail every day, Schornack has had to cancel catalogs and deal with missed deadlines on some bills. She only sends mail when someone comes to visit and is willing to take her outgoing mail with them.
"I don't want to sound like I'm complaining," she said. "I just want my mail."