Operation Red Nose returns to Prince Albert after hiatus

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald John Alexandersen the dispatcher for Operation Red Nose works at his computer on New Year's Eve at the Coronet Hotel.

Operation Red Nose returned to Prince Albert over the Holiday season. The last night for the program, which is presented by the Prince Albert Lions Club and was the 11th year for the event, was New Year’s Eve.

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

“It’s been quiet both on the volunteer front and on the client front,” he said during a break Saturday night. “It has been light on both, which is one thing I was a little afraid of and concerned for with being gone for two years. It doesn’t surprise me too much, but we have had two very busy nights which was nice to have. Both of those nights we happened to have quite a few teams as well and that was good.”

On New Year’s Eve there were three teams of drivers with the Lions Club and other volunteers represented. This 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.

Alexandersen said it would have been nice to be busier and have more volunteers. He’s happy to see the volunteers who helped out, but noted the two year gap took a toll.

“During that time we have lost and aged out a number of our regular volunteers,” he explained. “We have volunteers that can’t drive at night, long term volunteers that were very reliable aren’t able to do the night driving anymore and that cut into our quantity of volunteers, but we have our core and we have got certain ones that have been here every single night.”

Screenshot A sample of a text that Operation Red Nose volunteers receive.

One of those volunteers was Norma Sheldon, a longtime volunteer who began with Operation Red Nose around 2017. She couldn’t recall the exact year she started, but the COVID-19 pandemic had made a difference on her memory.

“I don’t remember if it was two years before COVID or three,” she said

Randy Braaten of the Lions Club considered her a long term volunteer.

“As far as I’m concerned you have been here forever,” Braaten said.

Sheldon said it’s important to volunteer with and support community services like Operation Red Nose.

“I feel strongly about making sure we have a safe community,” she explained. “I live in the R.M. of Prince Albert so I know that not everybody is necessarily comfortable driving the country roads but I will take them.

“I don’t have any problem doing that.”

The services runs roughly 10 kilometers outside of Prince Albert in all directions.

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, follow and pick up the driver and navigator to take them to the next pick up or back the program headquarters for coffee and food, donated by community business.

Volunteers do not have to use their own vehicles.

Sheldon said knowing country roads and winter and knowing where the snow plows had been were important to doing her work.

“We have had some weather events and we haven’t had that many calls into the country I don’t think. Last weekend we did we went three times into the country,” Sheldon said.

She has lost her long-term driving partner but still volunteers.

“Another fellow from my community about two miles as the crow flies from me was volunteering for a while but then he had some health related stuff going on so he can’t drive at night anymore,” she explained. “He and I were teaming up for a while and we kind of know the party crew out there too so we would do our own little advertising.

“We would just send out texts to people we knew that were going out or people would text us and say are you working tonight can you get us home later. It is just phone and if you are comfortable waiting

for us because we never know where we are going to be or what time.”

Sheldon said she would volunteer again next year in a heartbeat.

“I think it’s a really great program and it’s fun to volunteer because mostly everybody’s happy going home,” she said.

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 own vehicle.