It will be easier than ever to find a safe ride home this holiday season.
Operation Red Nose volunteers are busy hitching up their sleighs in almost every city in the Lower Mainland, with service due to begin in Langley-Surrey this weekend (Nov. 30 and Dec. 1).
This year, Burnaby and New Westminster have joined the program which offers clients a safe ride home (or wherever they want to go) in their own vehicles.
The process is simple, clients call for a ride and the first available vehicle comes to them. A designated driver chauffeurs the client in the client’s vehicle while two more volunteers in an escort vehicle follow them to their destination.
It’s all done at no charge, but ORN volunteers do accept donations on behalf of the charity that is running the show. In Langley-Surrey, that’s the Langley Gymnastics Foundation.
Since it began, ORN Langley has covered the Langley-Surrey-White Rock area. Over the years, more communities have introduced their own programs and with the addition of Burnaby and New Westminster, “You can pretty much go anywhere in the Lower Mainland,” said Garry Geisler, who has volunteered with the Langley group since its first season 14 years ago and served as co-ordinator for most of that time.
“You can party in Richmond and get all the way back to Chilliwack,” he said.
Though you’ll probably meet a few new people along the way.
When clients want passage from one community to another, a driver will take them as far as the municipal boundary where they’ll be met by a team from the next city, and so on, until they reach their destination — whether that’s in Abbotsford or Lions Bay.
Vancouver is the last holdout, Geisler said, though he is confident they will come on board eventually.
In its early years, a big part of the challenge for ORN volunteers was getting the word out about the service, which was still unfamiliar to a lot of people, said Geisler.
These days, it’s pretty well known, but volunteers still spend the early part of each evening spreading the word and reminding people to plan ahead for a safe ride home.
Joined by their mascot, a fuzzy yellow reindeer named Rudy, they spend the early part of each Friday and Saturday evening making the rounds of banquet halls and bars, saying hello and dropping off business cards.
Now that most people know who they are, the key is to plant the idea before they’ve had a few drinks, Geisler said.
If a plan is already in place to use the service, people are more likely to stick to it than if it is suggested to them once they’ve over-imbibed, he explained.
Something else that has changed over the years is the demographic that Operation Red Nose serves.
“In the beginning, it was a lot of middle aged couples out at company Christmas parties. Now it’s a lot of young people who are out partying. It’s not considered nerdy or a bad thing to use (the service).”
Although they already have a number of volunteer drivers, escorts and navigators ready to go, there is always room for more — especially on the weekend before Christmas, said Geisler.
Anyone who would like to help out is asked to download a form from the Red Nose website at rednose.bc.ca.
Volunteers are also required to undergo a background check with the RCMP.
For those considering using the service, it will be offered every Friday and Saturday night in December and on New Year’s Eve. Calls will be taken from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. each night and rides will be given until every caller has been safely delivered.
Call 604-532-0888 to arrange a ride.