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Operation Northern Comfort seeks to help those in need across CNY

Norman Clarke volunteers with Liverpool-based nonprofit Operation Northern Comfort to clean up a property on Foster Road along the Seneca River in Clay. The organization provides labor, donations and support to anyone in need throughout Central New York.

Norman Clarke volunteers with Liverpool-based nonprofit Operation Northern Comfort to clean up a property on Foster Road along the Seneca River in Clay. The organization provides labor, donations and support to anyone in need throughout Central New York. Maria Muprhy

— A new beginning

For all its Central New York ties, Operation Northern Comfort actually got its start in New Orleans.

Both Murphy and Vanderwerken are alums of Operation Southern Comfort, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to building and repairing homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It’s a project of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Liverpool, which affords it non-profit status and the ability to get tax-deductible contributions and administrative support.

Operation Southern Comfort was started in 2006 by Liverpool resident Norm Andrzejewski, a Tulane graduate who’d spent time on the Gulf Coast in the 1960s. He made his first relief trip in response to a conversation with a friend, Donlene Butler, whose Belle Chasse, La., neighborhood had seen significant damage. Andrzejewski gathered a group of volunteers who spent five days cleaning up before heading home, determined to return.

Since then, OSC has made a total of 35 trips to the Gulf Coast, with some 1,850 volunteers working on more than 300 projects. Most have headed back to Louisiana, though two groups have gone to Gulfport, Miss. All trips are funded by traveler contributions; each volunteer is asked to pay $280 for their own expenses, room and board. Local contributions pay for construction materials.

Both co-directors of Operation Northern Comfort found their way to the job because they expressed an interest in helping out but couldn’t manage another trip to St. Bernard Parish.

Vanderwerken went with Operation Southern Comfort in October of 2011 but couldn’t get time off from work to take another trip, so he approached Andrzejewski about any opportunities to volunteer locally.

“He put me in touch with the Chadwick Residence, and I did some odds and ends for them, and then organized a project in November,” Vanderwerken said. “I called ESF [SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry], actually. We painted an apartment for a woman to move into. It was just before Christmas. Then, with the help of Norm, we had Christmas presents delivered and everything, and it was just awesome.”

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