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Amanda Thompson, a military spouse at Misawa Air Base, Japan, browses for children’s clothing at the base’s Thrift Shop.

Amanda Thompson, a military spouse at Misawa Air Base, Japan, browses for children’s clothing at the base’s Thrift Shop. (Jennifer Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — After making a permanent-change-of-station move here in July, military spouse Cindy Straight picked up some free dishes and other household goods from the Airman’s Attic to get started in her family’s new Misawa home.

If Straight were to swing by the attic today, all she would find is an empty lot.

Misawa residents lost their Airman’s Attic this past fall, when Building 655 was demolished. Base officials said the government of Japan had scheduled the building, built in 1953, to be razed due to its age and to allow for the rebuilding of Grissom Dining Facility.

Across the Air Force, Airman’s Attic — usually run by volunteers under a private organization — provides donated furniture, clothing, household and baby items for free. At Misawa, all ranks, as well as civilians, could use the attic, although on most air bases it’s typically available for families E-4 and below.

But families who shopped at Misawa’s attic shouldn’t lament just yet.

Though Airman’s Attic is no longer a physical space with a sign in front, its services continue to be provided, said Maj. Matt Cornell, 35th Mission Support Squadron commander.

“The function is still alive here,” he said. “We had to go to some innovative solutions, and it’s not all in one place, but all the functions are being performed.”

The Thrift Shop, located in Building 540, has absorbed most of the attic. And though clothing and other merchandise at the store carries a nominal price tag, families E-4 and below from any service may shop for up to $20 worth of items for free once a month under a pilot program started several months ago, and military uniforms are free to active-duty members with ID.

“Our question was, ‘How much was it going to affect our income coming in?’ because we have expenses we have to pay,” said Thrift Shop manager Julie Yager. “It hasn’t cut into it too much, so we should be able to continue. For one thing, there’s not another organization that can take it on, and it’s a big need on base.”

The other services carried by Airman’s Attic — “the loan closet” for families making a permanent-change-of-station and the food pantry — are set up in a room at the Torii Building under the direction of Family Services and the Family Support Center. Both are open 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Maj. Victor Baumgarten, Family Support Center director, said there wasn’t a central location to move Airman’s Attic to and it made sense to move it into the Thrift Shop because of the staff members and volunteers already in place.

The Thrift Shop, run by the Misawa Officers Spouses Club with help from the Enlisted Community Organization, is a nonprofit endeavor staffed mostly by volunteers, officials said. All of its profits, after operating expenses, go back into the Misawa community in the form of scholarships and donations to youth and other organizations. Most items are donated to the Thrift Shop, though some are sold on consignment.

Since taking on Airman’s Attic, the Thrift Shop has seen the number of individuals taking advantage of E-1-to-E-4 privileges steadily grow. In October, 32 people signed up for free shopping and selected $468 worth of items, according to Yager. In December, the Thrift Shop gave away $717 in merchandise to 50 participants.

“In some respects, I think airmen may have more of a choice because of the selection at the Thrift Shop,” Cornell said, noting families E-1 to E-4 with a greater need can apply for more than $20 in items through their unit first sergeant.

For military spouse Amanda Thompson, the switch to the Thrift Shop has been nearly seamless. “It’s about the same,” she said last week, while using her monthly free shopping quota. “I get a lot of my girls’ clothes here. I’m not really missing anything.”

Straight, who grabbed up those dishes when moving to Misawa, admits she misses the attic, even though she thinks the Thrift Shop is a great base service.

“There’s more selection here, it’s just there’s a price on it here,” she said. “You can’t beat free stuff.”

How the Thrift Store works

The Misawa Thrift Store accepts donations of clothes, books, household goods (including dishes and decorations), toys, linens, computer products, DVDs, videos, music items and more.

The store does not accept stained, torn, broken or dirty items, undergarments or fatigues. Donations can be placed in a box behind Building 540 across from the post office. Up to 20 items may be consigned per week, consisting of 10 clothing and 10 non-clothing items. The owner sets the price; the Thrift Store commission of 20 percent is subtracted from all items.

The Thrift Store has special discounts that include 50-cent Saturdays, when all donated items cost 50 cents. Families E-1 to E-4 can take advantage of the free shopping program during regular hours, except Saturdays. Military uniforms are free to active-duty members with an ID card, with a limit of two sets per month. The store also keeps a wish list and will call individuals if the product becomes available or comes into the store. Extra items, such as clothes not in season, are donated to the Morioka Orphanage. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. the second Saturday of every month. Call DSN 226-4447 for more information or to volunteer.

— Stars and Stripes

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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