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Self Help Store serving MacDill's do-it-yourselfers

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
Photo by Nick Stubbs

Staff Sgt. Michael Brownless, front, and Larry Taylor, Self Help Store clerk, load free mulch destined for Sgt. Brownlee’s yard. Mulch is just one of many freebies provided by the store to base residents.

MacDill servicemembers are well aware of the power of teamwork but also that teams are made of strong individuals, the best of whom are self sufficient and resourceful, able to identify problems and solve them on their own. Well, almost on their own. That's where the Self Help Store comes in.

Established to provide Airmen who live on base with a variety of goods to cope with everyday problems ranging from clogged drains to fire ants, the Self Help Store is stop one when it comes to dealing with whatever trials and tribulations life, nature or chance can dish up.

For example, all base personnel with a reasonably manageable pest problem are required to put forth a best effort in dealing with the problem before calling Pest Control Services. The Self Help Store is there to provide what they need at no cost, and advice on how to apply solutions also is free.

The same goes for about any household problem or maintenance issue that is reasonably within the capability of the average Airman. When Airmen can deal with minor and every-day issues around the house and sometimes the office, it reduces the load on professionals and others to tend to the bigger problems, making for a more efficient system overall, said Bill Campbell, Self Help Store and Warehouse supervisor.

But there are limits to what is expected and electrical repairs fall into that category.

"We discourage people from getting involved in wiring, especially in multi-family units," said Mr. Campbell. "We don't need risks of that nature."

But mowing the yard, edging, mulching and unstopping a slow kitchen drain are all fair game for even the neophyte handyman and the Self Help Store has all the tools and supplies you need.

Base residents are allowed up to 10 bags of mulch. Lawnmowers can be borrowed, along with blowers, weed eaters and other landscape devices. Pesticides, air conditioning filters, toilet tank flush kits, rug shampooers and more are available. Most of the time there is no need to reserve equipment, though some items, like carpet cleaners, are checked out more often than not.

Summer also sees a run on yard gear.

The key is timely return of items and while Airmen who are on an exercise or have other valid reasons for failing to get something back within 24 hours are excused, those who forget or drag their feet are only hurting others who also need to borrow equipment, Mr. Campbell said.

Then there are those who are less than mechanically inclined. Despite lessons and advice on safe, correct operation, every so often someone fills a lawnmower's gas tank with oil and the crankcase with gas.

"Then they wonder why it's blowing black smoke," said Mr. Campbell. "It never fails."

The Self Help Store stocks most every item needed for around the home, but always is taking recommendations for new items and also accepts comment cards from customers.

"We're always looking at what we can add," said Mr. Campbell.

Larry Taylor, the friendly clerk who most often deals with store customers, said this time of year the rush is for air conditioning filters and insecticides and bug traps. As it starts to cool off in fall, those wants will change.

"It's seasonal," he said. "It's always changing."

The store and warehouse operates under the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron headed by Lt. Col. John Prater, commander, who ultimately makes decisions on store merchandise and what to do if negligence is involved when equipment is damaged.

Most of the equipment that is loaned is well-used and is expected to break sooner or later, but new equipment that comes back in pieces may be scrutinized.

"Fortunately we don't see abuse here," said Mr. Campbell. "It's not what people are inclined to do."

Mr. Campbell said the biggest misconception about the Self Help Store is that materials and equipment are available to those living off base. They are not and only those living on base or facility managers in need of items may use the store.

But anyone is welcome to stop by and pick up any one of a number of helpful how-to books on everything from plumping and landscaping to building your own deck.

The store is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

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