‘A great way to serve’

Operation Red Nose volunteer Stephen Denis updates the white board following a shift change just before midnight on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. -- Herald file photo.

Through 10 years, there’s been one common theme at Operation Red Nose: it always gets bigger.

Volunteers and Lions Club members offered less than 100 rides during that first year of operation, but that number has tripled since then. It’s been a slow, steady climb, but it jumped in 2018 with Operation Red Nose giving 364 rides on holiday weekends, a 33 per cent increase over the year before.

“In a way, it’s kind of crazy,” co-chair Suzanne Bantle chuckles. “You would think they would have known about this before.”

There’s no doubt Operation Red Nose has become more and more visible over the last decade. The volunteer-run enterprise aims to reduce impaired driving by giving Christmas revelers a ride home in their own vehicle, but initially it was tough to get the word out. That’s changed in recent years, partly to media reports, but mostly the same way news has always spread: through word-of-mouth.

“We’re a known commodity now,” long-time volunteer John Alexandersen said. “Being around for this many years, the public knows about us, the businesses know about us, and they feel that it is a worthwhile endeavor to sponsor.”

“I think everybody totally believes in the program, to make sure that people do get home safe,” Bantle adds. “That’s why so many businesses are totally on board with us.”

Finding support from local businesses was actually one of the easiest concerns to address. Operation Red Nose has already secured support from four local car dealerships, who’ve agreed to supply their shuttle vehicles to help get volunteer drivers get to any location, as well as a few local restaurants, who’ve agreed to provide snacks for volunteers. That last one is especially appreciated, since Operation Red Nose runs until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

“You walk in and ask if they’re going to support (Operation Red Nose) this year again and there’s no problem, no hesitation at all in doing it,” co-chair Randy Braaten said. “This year, we approached some new sponsors, … and some of them have to go back and talk to their bosses, but with a lot of them, it’s no problem at all.”

Businesses that can’t donate food or transportation offer their support in other ways. In most cases, that means giving operating funds to the cause.

Operation Red Nose offers no charge for its services, but it does request users provide a donation. Those funds go to local Prince Albert schools, who spend them on everything from new library books to sports and playground equipment. In 2018, Operation Red Nose collected roughly $8,000 from clients and donors, which they spread out among 10 Prince Albert schools.

With the business support taken care of, Operation Red Nose can focus on its biggest need: volunteers. They received almost non-stop calls for service during the 2018 holiday season, but the biggest need by far came on New Year’s Eve.

On a regular night, the organization uses around a dozen volunteers, but that number jumps to more than 30 for big occasions like New Year’s. Last year, the operation had to briefly shut down because they didn’t have enough volunteers.

“We did the best we can, but with only so many volunteers, we can only do so much,” Bantle explains.

Both Braaten and Bantle said the people who do volunteer are fantastic. They’re just hoping for more of them when they open for their first night of service on Nov. 29.

“This is a great way to serve the community because then we’re not going to have a lot of people driving under the influence and a lot of accidents and a lot of deaths,” Bantle said. “This is one of the reasons why I am very supportive of this program.”

Operation Red Nose runs every Friday and Saturday night through December, plus New Year’s Eve, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. The service will run a bit longer on New Year’s Eve if necessary. Volunteers operate in three-person teams made up of two drivers and a navigator.

To volunteer or donate, call 1-306-763-6673, or email rbraaten@sasktel.net. Volunteer registration forms can also be downloaded from www.operationrednose.com. Clients looking to use the service can also call 1-306-763-6673 on nights of operation.

A total of 45 people in Prince Albert and area volunteered to help Operation Red Nose last Christmas. They combined to provide rides for 779 people.