In the days after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, Norm Andrzejewski knew what he was going to have to do.
“As soon as it happened, a number of comments came in to our group, saying, ‘Let’s do this,’” said Andrzejewski, who formed Operation Southern Comfort in 2006 to help the Gulf Coast rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. “People were asking me, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I’m busy. I’ve got two jobs.’ But I couldn’t ignore it. So it wasn’t long before we decided we needed to do something.”
Operations Northern and Southern Comfort are collecting the following items to fill a rental truck for their Dec. 22 trip to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy:
Non-perishable food items
Contractor garbage bags
Tyvek work suits
P100 particle respirator masks
Backpacks with school supplies
Cash donations for gas and tolls
Donations can be dropped off at 800 Second St., Liverpool. For more information, call Norm Andrzejewski at 559-9413 or Kristin Andrzejewski at 935-7792.
Operation Southern Comfort, as well as Operation Northern Comfort, its locally-active counterpart, has sent volunteers to areas affected by Sandy twice since the beginning of November. Andrzejewski, a Liverpool resident who has been to the hardest-hit areas of the Gulf Coast more than 40 times since Katrina struck, said it’s an all-too-familiar scene.
“It’s a lot like New Orleans, a lot like Mississippi, especially in some of the harder-hit areas like Rockaway,” he said. “There’s a lot of sand, a lot of homes that need to be mucked out. There are a lot of families hurting.”
That’s why ONC and OSC are teaming up in a new effort, one Andrzejewski is calling Operation Sandyland, to help those affected by the latest disaster. A team, led by Andrzejewski’s granddaughter Kristin, will be heading down with a rental truck on Dec. 22 to help out wherever they can.
“Our plan right now is to help wherever needed,” Kristin Andrzejewski said. “In the past, we had a pickup truck, and we helped the Occupy Sandy people deliver and transport goods because they don’t have a steady stream of transportation.”
Kristin said the situation is still tenuous in many neighborhoods.
“Some parts are pretty bad,” she said. “There are still people without power, people waiting in long lines for hours for a hot meal.”
While this trip is focused on filling the gaps and helping where needed, Norm Andrzejewski said Operation Sandyland hopes to develop a relationship with local agencies so that they can set up a more permanent presence in the area.
“Right now we’re focusing on finding a partner agency, someone that can provide a floor for us to sleep on, any other amenities that can be added on to that, a kitchen or what have you,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we can get into a relationship that lasts longer than a couple of weeks.”
Andrzejewski said it was likely the rebuilding process would take years.
“I think we’re looking at a five-year horizon here, at least,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Andrzejewski did not expect New York and New Jersey to be as neglected as New Orleans or St. Bernard Parish, however.
“There was an incompetent FEMA in 2006. I suspect that some of the money that was thrown at [victims of Katrina] was wasted, based on some of the stories we heard from people who got money who were intending to use to redo homes. They got ripped off one way or another. But I hope we learned a lesson from that,” he said. “Frankly, and I shouldn’t say this, but I will, I think the administration of things in New York and New Jersey is very different from the administration of things in Louisiana and Mississippi. I think the window will be shorter here. It’s going to happen here, but it’s a five-year deal, at least, to get back where we used to be.”
And if there’s anyone in a position to help get those areas back on their feet, it’s the volunteers of ONC and OSC.
“What makes Operation Southern Comfort and Northern Comfort — Operation Sandyland, as I’m calling it — what makes us different is that we realize that,” Andrzejewski said. “We’re not going to go once or twice and say, ‘Well, that was fun.’ We’re in it for the long term.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.