Operation Red Nose has a busy last Saturday before Christmas

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald -- Volunteer Dispatcher John Alexandersen manned the dispatch station at the Coronet Hotel for Operation Red Nose on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.

Operation Red Nose is back in Prince Albert for the Holiday season. Saturday evening was a busy one for the program, which is presented by the Prince Albert Lions Club and is the 12th year for the event, 

Volunteer dispatcher John Alexandersen said they are still trying to regain a foothold after taking 2020 and 2021 off because of COVID-19 and returning last year.

“It’s been fairly steady, it’s a little bit quieter than it was a few years ago, but it’s definitely picked up since the first year, a couple of years after COVID. We’re on the rebound,” Alexandersen said.

Other organizations are offering similar concepts such as MAD providing cab passes but everyone has the same attitude about getting people home safely.

“We’re not worried if they only use us, as long as they’re making making wise choices and getting home safely,” he said.

Alexandersen said that the service is appreciated by everyone who uses it.

“From what I hear, I haven’t had a chance to be in the field much, but from what I hear it’s very quiet out there. The bar is closing early in the evening, so all those things are going to subtract away from customers that we have coming towards us,” he said.

Michael Olekyn/Daily Herald Volunteers and Lions Club members wait for calls to come into Operation Red Nose on Saturday night at the Coronet Hotel.

On Saturday there were three teams of drivers with the Lions Club and other volunteers represented. For the second year, they operated out of the Coronet Hotel instead of their Lions Club Room at the Exhibition Grounds because of the Stepping Stones Shelter being located adjacent.

Volunteer teams, made up of an escort driver, a designated driver and a navigator ensure the individuals and their vehicles get home safe. An escort vehicle, provided by dealerships in the city, follows and picks up the driver and navigator to take them to the next pick-up or back to the program headquarters for coffee and food, donated by community businesses.

The first call for the evening came in at just a little after 9 p.m. for a pickup from East End Arena. The team on that drive was volunteers Thaer Al Othman, Norma Sheldon and Luc Fournier. Al Othman is in his second year and Sheldon and Fournier are longtime volunteers.

“Well, I’m in my second year of the justice system and I’m becoming a police officer and you need to do volunteering. And when I read about Red Nose, it seemed the only thing I enjoyed the most,” Al Othman said.

Al Othman explained that volunteering with Operation Red Nose was better for his volunteer hours but he is active in the community.

“And I did some other volunteer. I was like coaching soccer, doing other stuff, but they don’t count it as community volunteering as much as they count Red Nose operation,” Al Othman said.

Al Othman enjoys the time volunteering.

“I do enjoy it. It’s especially making sure people get home safely,” he said.

Sheldon said that having someone entering law enforcement do volunteer work for the program would help promote it in the future.

“He’s a very good advocate for us too, he’s an excellent volunteer,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon has been a volunteer since before COVID-19 and her former driving partner retired due to health issues but she continues to be a volunteer.

”He had some health issues that don’t allow him to drive well at night comfortably,” she said.

Sheldon loves working for the program

“I look forward to it each year. You know 3 a.m. I’m ready to go home,” she said.

“Last New Year’s Eve, when you and I were out a little later than three. I think it was closer to 4:30 by the time we got home,” she explained.

The teams have a friendly competition for who can bring in the most donations and last year Sheldon and Fournier were a little behind.

“So we took two extra trips,” Fournier said.

Sheldon said that they maintained the win in the competition with those donations.

“We get told we’re going to get these donations, we would want to make sure that we do everything to make sure that happens, but I mean ultimately we don’t control it,” Sheldon said

“So there’s a Toblerone and a Lindt chocolate that you can bid on when you get back to the office,” Fournier said.

Operation Red Nose provides rides on select weekends to residents who have been drinking and don’t want to risk driving their own vehicle home. The service is available by donation, with clients providing roughly $4,400 in 2022.

The Lions Club distributed that money among 11 Prince Albert elementary schools, which used the money to purchase library books, improve lunch programs, install new playground equipment or, in one case, build a warm-up shack for a nearby outdoor rink.

There is an anonymity policy for passengers when you are a volunteer. Fournier explained that it is written in such a way that you cannot identify if you know a person to whom you give a ride. The first pick-up of the evening was at the East End Arena and because of this policy they were identified as M and J and were getting home safe from a party.

M explained that this was the first time that they used Operation Red Nose and the reason was fairly simple.

“So we can get home safe, safe and sound,” M said.

“It’s a good thing to have.”

The service runs roughly 10 kilometres outside of Prince Albert in all directions.

Operation Red Nose runs every Friday and Saturday night in December, as well as New Year’s Eve. The service runs until 2 a.m., except for New Year’s Eve when it runs later into the morning.

Anyone wanting to volunteer can call 306-76-6673, or email rbraaten@sasktel.net. Volunteers must have a criminal record check, which is provided free of charge by the Prince Albert Police Service or RCMP.

Drivers looking to request a pickup can call 306-763-NOSE (6673).

“If you’re going out make use of our services Operation Red Nose,” Alexandersen said.

Volunteers do not have to use their vehicles and vehicles were provided this year by Lakeland Hyundai, Lakeland Ford and Anderson Toyota.

Operation Red Nose is an annual December campaign intended to reduce impaired driving. It provides free volunteer-based designated driver service catering to all motorists who have been drinking or who do not feel fit to drive their vehicle.