I had never volunteered for Operation Red Nose (ORN), and living way out on a farm in the prairies, I had never used the service either – they refused us year after year because it was too far.
Still, I had always sworn to myself to one day dawn the red vest and chauffeur party-goers around; it felt like some kind of civic duty to do some good.
With the triumphant return of the volunteer organization in Langley and such a strong need for drivers, I finally showed up to the makeshift dispatch centre hosted by the Langley Minor Hockey Association (LMHA) last Friday night to make good on that vow.
I was nervous, as were, I think, a lot of the other first timers there. Mostly, we seemed to agree that the biggest obstacle was getting behind the wheel of someone’s car – someone’s expensive Maserati to be more specific.
Despite reading stacks of pamphlets and instructions on how it all works, it’s all still a bit nerve racking to know you’ll be up until the crack of dawn chasing down strangers – like it or not, it’s an out of the ordinary situation.
The experienced volunteers were sure to enlighten us newbies with years-worth of tales – wild eye-popping anecdotes that I, in all good conscience, cannot repeat on a family news website.
On the bright side, they said if the client throws up, at the very least it will happen in their own car. No one could disagree with that logic, despite everyone silently praying moments like that wouldn’t arise.
We were told by organizers not to worry, and then surprisingly treated to what ORN never seems to advertise – unlimited sugar-filled candy bars and coffee to ensure we stayed awake; that, at least, seemed to distract our jangled nerves.
Paired off into teams of three and sent off into assigned neighbourhoods in Surrey-Langley at 9 p.m., we began looking for holiday parties and pubs to spread the word that ORN was on the streets.
Some folks signed up with friends – others like myself had never met the other team members; two hockey parents hoping to raise money for their kids hockey team – the Eagles.
When you’re sent in a car with two strangers, you become friends very quickly; certainly an added bonus when it comes to volunteering with ORN.
We appointed each other specific roles for the evening and began trouncing through bars in our area – Murrayville – as well as a few business holiday parties and even a wedding, handing out little cards with the ORN phone number.
Everyone was happy to see us – particularly the bride and groom who invited us to stay for drinks – of course, duty called and we had to turn that offer down.
Forty-some odd minutes later, we got our first call. It would seem those cards worked. Someone we handed it too phoned the dispatch centre and we were told via text where to pick them up, how many people were coming along, and where we we’re destined to go.
For the better part of the night, I was the escort – trailing behind the client’s vehicle, driven by one of the other volunteers while the third navigated to their home.
This is how organized ORN is; many of the clients we drove lived in other cities, so we’d meet another team in designated drop off points on the border of our zone. All that routing and planning was done by dispatch – all we had to do was drive.
A few blinks later, it was 3 a.m. and we were told our shift had ended. Even if you’re not much of a night owl – something I certainly am not – the shift goes lightening quick, and for me, I was wide awake at the end of it all.
Never once did I feel unsafe – having teammates gives you that assurance, but ORN stresses right from the get-go that this is a volunteer gig. No one is ever obliged to give a ride if they feel unsure about the client.
Admittedly, we were all a little disapointed at the end of it because our passengers had all been so well-behaved.
One guy told my team member that he looked like Will Ferrell on Elf which seemed to throw him into an existential funk for the rest of the night, but beyond that – everyone mostly slept or requested to be taken to McDonald’s for a fillet-o-fish; something we were encouraged to oblige by dispatch.
We didn’t have to drive any overly fancy vehicles or traverse any difficult neighbourhoods. At the end of it all, our team had provided five safe rides home and raised hundreds of dollars in donations.
The service is free, but it seemed more times than not, people paid generous amounts for their ride.
Michelle Cowan, vice president of operations, told us beforehand that 68 people die every year because of impaired driving. If we could prevent even just one of those deaths from happening, we did our job.
And that’s what it’s all about; as fun and lighthearted as it often felt, we gave up a few hours of sleep to make sure as few people as possible made a life-altering decision like getting behind the wheel after too many drinks.
Whether you volunteer with or use the service, either decision is one of the best you can make this holiday season.
Covering all of Langley-Township and Surrey, ORN is scheduled every Friday and Saturday night, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. as well as Tuesday, Dec. 31. – New Year’s Eve.
They’re still in need of volunteers; people can sign up at www.Langleyminorhockey.ca.
The local Red Nose number to call if a ride is needed is 604-539-9082.
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