Frequently Asked Questions
Operation Southern Comfort
Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort
Frequently Asked Questions – December 2012
Q.What is the purpose of Operation Southern Comfort?
Operation Southern Comfort (OSC) is an organization of volunteers based in Central New York rebuilding hope for the people of the Gulf Coast by rebuilding homes one at a time.
We assist with the overwhelming challenges faced by many families in the Katrina/Rita hurricane devastated areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. We are working through churches of various denominations and other community agencies to identify families in need of assistance and to support their efforts.
Q. Who is in charge of the organization?
President and Trip Operations Chair- Warren Machell
315-457-6868 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Treasurer and Finance Chair–Dick Hollington
315-706-0180 or email@example.com
Public Relations Chair- Janet Andrzejewski
315-457-5757 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CEO- Norm Andrzejewski – 315-559-9413 or email@example.com
There is also a Steering Committee, composed of SC travelers dedicated to the continuation of our efforts, which helps set policy and plot direction.
Q. Who sponsors the organization?
A. Operation Southern Comfort is sponsored by St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Liverpool NY, with financial support from Catholic Charities. Partner agencies have included the Belle Chasse Church of Christ, Belle Chasse, Louisiana; Gateway United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Gulfport, Mississippi; Inter-American Redevelopment Corporation and St. Bernard Project, Chalmette Louisiana. Our current partners are the Knights of Columbus, Covenant United Methodist Church and Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Chalmette, Louisiana; and All Souls Episcopal Church & Community Center, New Orleans.
Q. What has the Project accomplished?
A. We have taken a total of 42 week-long trips – 40 to the New Orleans area and 2 to Gulfport, Mississippi. During these trips, over 2000 people worked on 300+ jobs – mucking out houses, beginning the rebuilding process (including electrical work, installing sheetrock, and roofing), and participating in many other tasks to help Katrina victims rebuild their lives. OSC has also constructed houses for Marilyn in Belle Chasse, and Maria in St. Bernard, Louisiana.
We have also delivered 4 trailer loads of school supplies, musical instruments, books and athletic equipment, toys and games to St. Bernard Parish for distribution to needy kids and families. In July 2008, the truck also contained 14 pianos and 3 organs.
OSC initiated a project combining the forces of the Chalmette (LA) High School Chorus and Band; and the Liverpool (NY) HS Jazz Ensemble. The first activity of this effort was the visit by members of the Chalmette Chorus to Central New York for the first OSC Mardi Gras celebration in November 2007. This was followed by a visit by the Liverpool Jazz Ensemble to St. Bernard Parish in May 2008; a return trip by the Chalmette Chorus for the 2nd Mardi Gras in November 2008; and a trip by the Chalmette HS Band, which played at Liverpool High School and the Crawfish Festival in May 2009.
Tree planting is a continuing focus. One of the reasons for the devastation of Katrina and her successors is the disappearance of the forest shield in Southeast Louisiana, which protected the New Orleans area from hurricane winds and water. With the assistance and direction of local tree experts, OSC volunteers have cultured nearly 6,000 ecologically valuable baldcypress and live oak seedlings. Recent evaluations onsite have found a high rate of tree survival, with nursery stock in excellent growth and health.
We are also developing an art project; initially, we are painting individual roofing slates which were blown off during Katrina. This project, besides providing art lessons and skills, also encompasses culture and history, since the painters are concentrating on local themes for their work.
Q. What are the Project plans for the future?
A. Trips are tentatively scheduled for January, February, March & April, 2013. Trips are typically comprised of five work days in the devastation area and two travel days at the beginning and end of the work week. House building trips can last 3 weeks; volunteers are scheduled in one-week increments. All trips are open to able-bodied adults. The four trips at the beginning of the year will be scheduled to coincide with high school and college breaks.
Q. What type of work will volunteers be doing?
A. We have been focusing recently on new construction and rebuilding. Activities involve carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, drywall construction, painting, etc. There are many other things that volunteers do during their workweeks; therefore, any volunteer with specialized skills should contact us about helping in other ways. We’ve found that our efforts not only help with the physical work but also offer an opportunity to overcome the depression and inertia being experienced by many of the victims of this natural disaster.
Q. Who’s in charge?
A. Each trip is overseen by a director who is responsible for all activities of each of the work groups. In addition, each 6 to 12 person work group will have a team coordinator assigned. The team coordinator will be responsible for assessing each of the worksites; deciding on individual assignments for each team member; watching out for the personal health and safety of all team members; assuring that proper food and lodging is provided; and communication with the trip director and the host church or agency.
Q. Is there any danger in the work?
A. There is some danger inherent in work of this type. Working with power tools involves some risk and requires extra care. There may be heavy lifting involved. Falls, cuts and scrapes can occur. Wearing an N95-designated facemask or NIOSH-approved respirator, work boots, gloves, goggles, and a soft hat or hard hat (if there is danger of falling debris or electrical hazards) may be recommended. In addition, each work site will be evaluated for any specific concerns.
A recent addition to the list of potential hazards is Chinese drywall. In the past several years, a significant amount of drywall made in China has been found to emit gases cause health problems for residents, and damage property, including appliances, wiring and electronic devices. Complaints about the material have been lodged in most US states, including Louisiana. While no long-term health effects have been seen yet, we will exercise the utmost care and concern if we encounter this material. For more information, you can google “Chinese drywall”.
Q. What is the normal daily routine?
A. Daily schedules and individual work assignments will be the responsibility of the team coordinator. Most likely, team meetings will be held each day to get team input and communicate assignments and instructions. We expect that volunteer teams will be on the job site for eight or more hours each work day.
Q. Will we need to bring tools?
A. We have a number of tools stored in St. Bernard Parish and have access to others through our various partners. However, we usually are short of things like drills and screw guns, so we encourage volunteers to bring those kinds of tools. In addition, many experienced volunteers prefer to use their own personal tools, which is ok, as long as there is room in the vehicle. Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own protective gear and clothing (e.g., respirator, work boots, gloves, goggles). Be sure your equipment is marked with your name to assure it’s returned to you.
Food and Lodging
Q. What about food?
A. Either OSC personnel or a host agency will be responsible for providing and preparing breakfast and dinner each day. We are responsible for cleanup and volunteers will be solicited on a daily basis. Lunch fixings, ice and drinks will be available for individuals to pack their own lunches each morning
The Gulf Coast has a well-deserved reputation for delicious and diverse foods. Our host communities frequently like to show off their culinary skill for guests. Bon appétit!
Q. What are the sleeping arrangements?
The churches and community agencies that host us provide acceptable shelter for our volunteers. This includes sleeping quarters, bathing facilities, cooking facilities and a dining area. Generally, these are available in a community or school building on their grounds. We often use the classrooms as dormitories, which are segregated by gender. They may be equipped with bunks or “FEMA” cots, which are actually pretty comfortable. Volunteers will need to bring their own bedding or sleeping bag as well as a pillow.
Q. How will we get there and back?
A. The project will provide mini vans for travel back and forth from Syracuse, and for transportation while in the area. Volunteers will be assigned to a van and adults may be expected to share the driving. The trip is 1,400 miles each way and takes two days. Fuel and tolls are covered by the project. We leave early on Saturday morning, making an overnight stay on Saturday in a church at the half-way point in the journey, both coming and going. That is usually a much more pleasant experience than a motel.
Q. What about meals on the road?
A. Meal stops are decided by van occupants. The project is unable to cover the expense of meals on the road. Please bring sufficient funds for two dinners, four lunches and two breakfasts.
Q. What should I pack?
A. In short, the answer is work clothes. But, be sure they are appropriate for the weather at that time of year. Work boots are a MUST; if you plan to plant trees, you’ll need special boots. In addition, volunteers should bring their own bedding, pillow, towels, toiletries, sun block and insect repellent. You may wish to travel in decent clothes but, during the week, plan on getting dirty every day. Some teams may choose to visit the French Quarter for a little R & R. You’ll need tourist garb for that.
Q. What if I’m sick or get injured?
A. The project has arrangements with local care providers for minor or emergency care. If you’re sick and need a day off, work schedules can accommodate that. If the illness is more serious or you get injured, there are clinics and hospitals in the area that are fully operational. EMS and ambulance services are available throughout the area. Don’t forget your health insurance ID card.
Q. Will I need a tetanus shot?
A. Yes, you will need to have a current tetanus booster. Check with your personal physician to see if your vaccination is current.
Q. Is there insurance?
A. The project will have liability coverage through our primary sponsor.
Q. What if there is an auto accident or breakdown?
A. The vehicles we are using come from major car rental agencies. They have all the required insurance and breakdown coverage. In the event of either occurrence, follow the instructions provided by the rental agency.
Q. If I volunteer, what will it cost me personally?
A. There is a fee of $325 for participation. For travelers on their second or subsequent trip in a calendar year, the fee may be lower. Economic hardship waivers are available for those that would not be able to participate otherwise. Please contact Norm Andrzejewski.
In addition, we suggest that volunteers contact friends or relatives, local businesses, civic organizations, like the Rotary or Optimist Clubs, etc for support. Many volunteers have been successful in these efforts to date.
Occasionally, volunteers travel on their own. Their fees will be adjusted, depending on the circumstances. Please see Chuck Seereiter to discuss the details of your situation.
Q. Is there any alternative to riding in the rental vans?
A. It is possible for some volunteers to fly or drive their own vehicles to the Gulf Coast. The Project can not pay for alternate transportation, but may pay for gas and tolls for personal autos. Before buying tickets, volunteers should check with project leaders to assure that transportation from and to the airport or station can be arranged.
Space in minivans is limited, especially since we are focusing on taking power tools. Therefore, we would encourage owners of trucks to consider taking them. We could use one truck per trip.
Q. Will there be any free time during the trip?
A. Each team will be able to schedule one half day for R & R. This time could be used for a driving tour of the devastated areas. It is a remarkable experience to see the incredible amount of damage that the storms and flooding caused. Additionally, some people might want to visit the French Quarter. Others may have different interests. It will be up to each team to arrange for whatever activities their members wish to undertake.