Operation Red Nose a tremendous success in Portage
Portage's Operation Red Nose coordinator, Leo Lapointe (left) accepts a donation of $500 in gift certificates on behalf of Portage Co-op from Tammy Hammersley (right), human resources/public relations manager with mascot Rudy approving during the 2017 launch Thursday morning at the Portage RCMP detachment. (Brian Oliver/The Graphic)
The numbers are in and there's no denying the facts.
Operation Red Nose - an annual campaign offering a free, volunteer-run designated driver service that operates each holiday season – provides patrons with a safe ride home in their own vehicles without them getting behind the wheel themselves. Portage la Prairie sits second only to Winnipeg in terms of total rides, volunteers and donations among participating communities across the province.
Not only an annual leader amongst its peers, Portage sees growth in the program each year and brought in $11,233.30 in donations in 2016 – nearly three times that of Brandon. Last year also saw Portage offer 497 rides thanks to the tireless efforts of 283 volunteers often working until the wee, small hours of the morning.
“We love to see those numbers,” says Sean O'Keefe, RCMP community liaison officer. “It just means that many more people are getting home safely and it saves us from having to go to any kind of tragedy that might ruin anyone's holiday season.”
A large portion of ORN volunteers come by way of the Portage Minor Hockey Association – the organization has a mandate that a parent is required to volunteer for two driving shifts per child registered in PMHA.
“The volunteers are great, a big percentage of them are through PMHA,” says Leo Lapointe, Portage chapter ORN coordinator. “They volunteer and come out on those weekends and put in the time until 3 a.m. getting people home safe. They should pat themselves on the back because like I say, we keep the drinking and driving off the roads.”
A mutually beneficial partnership, ORN not only reduces the number of people drinking and driving on area roads, but offers PMHA a great deal of financial support. The funds help cover the organization's operating costs such as ice rental and jerseys while providing a unique opportunity to incoming, young hockey players.
“(Operation Red Nose) is a fantastic program. This year, with the fundraising we do, we managed to make it when entering into hockey, aside for equipment, it's almost free to join at the Squirt level,” says PMHA president Peter Fedak. “It gets kids into hockey, gets them doing these team sports and allows them to build those relationships and all of the great leadership aspects that playing on a team brings.”
ORN has operated in Portage dating back to 2006 and has seen substantial growth over that time. In 2009 the program offered 274 rides throughout the community and in its tenth year of existence, nearly cracked the 500 ride mark. That being said, coming up just short has now provided local organizers with a new bench mark.
“My goal this year is 500 (rides). If we make 500 I'm happy,” Lapointe adds.
A sentiment echoed by Portage RCMP.
“If we broke that this year that would be great,” says O'Keefe. “Of course, with the holiday season we have a lot of people out enjoying the holiday by imbibing and enjoying company of family and friends. The only thing that we can ask is arrive home safely and Operation Red Nose is a great tool to do so.”
Locally, ORN kicks off Nov. 24 and will run each weekend up to and including New Years Eve. It is a free program however its success relies greatly on donations. Many local organizations rally behind the efforts of ORN organizers and volunteers by keeping them satiated.
“Portage likes to have fun over the holidays which is great. It's an opportunity to make sure everybody can mix and mingle over the holidays but still travel safely home,” adds Fedak. “People are willing to pay a premium to have their car at home with them. Maybe it's because you're catching them at the end of the night when everybody is in a great mood.”
To arrange a ride with ORN contact 204-239-5570. For more information contact Lapointe at 204-870-5151. Those interested in volunteering with the driving service are required to have a criminal record check however costs are covered by RCMP.