SYRACUSE Reisie Murchison has every reason to believe in angels.
“I met Norm, and his words were, ‘We’ll be there for you,’” Murchison said. “I remember like it was yesterday. I thanked him, he said, ‘You don’t understand. We’ll be there for you until the end.’ And he didn’t lie. Operation Southern Comfort came in and put me in a comfort zone. I felt comforted that all of these angels were around me doing everything they could. They fixed up everything.”
Murchison will get to thank her angels in person this weekend. Thanks to an anonymous benefactor, Murchison, her daughter and her father will fly up to Syracuse from St. Bernard Parish, La., for the annual Crawfish Festival, the major fundraiser for Operation Southern/Northern Comfort.
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 more than 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.
Then last spring, in an effort to help out closer at home, Andrzejewski started Operation Northern Comfort. The organization, headed by Dick Bonanno, provides labor, donations and support to anyone in need throughout Central New York. According to the organization’s mission statement, “Whether it is delivering donated furniture, painting a room or organizing a fundraiser, the volunteers at ONC will do whatever they can to help. Following the example of its sister organization, Operation Southern Comfort, Operation Northern Comfort has no paid staff and welcomes volunteers of all skill and experience level; no job is ever too small. ONC is geared toward one day reconstructing houses in the area.”