Brandon should be red-faced over our abysmal support of Operation Red Nose.
The annual program is a valuable service — providing rides home for you and your car if you are out during the holidays and have had a bit too much to drink.
At a time of year when taxi services are swamped, Operation Red Nose helps keep impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel, even (especially) if they think they’ve “only had a couple and it’s totally fine.”
It’s also an important fundraiser for the Westman and Area Traditional Christmas Dinner and local youth sports programs.
People who take advantage of Operation Red Nose not only get home safely, but they are driven home in their own vehicle. Donations for the service are appreciated, but not required.
Brandon — and Shilo — residents appear to have taken advantage of the optional nature of donations.
This year, the average donation in Brandon was just $13.99 — third-lowest in the province and more than 20 per cent less than the Manitoba average of $17.67. Only in Shilo (where rides are presumably shorter) and The Pas did users of the service donate less on average.
Red Nose riders in The Pas donated an average of $11.42 per ride. Shilo users came in dead last at $7.51 per ride.
Thompson, Steinbach, Selkirk and Gimli all donated more than $20 apiece on average. Winnipeg riders donated more than $25.
More embarrassingly, Brandon took advantage of the service just 282 times, with Shilo racking up 200 rides.
Red Nose operations in Portage la Prairie and Thompson provided about twice that many rides, with around 500 in each community.
Local organizers say they were hampered by a lack of volunteers.
This year, the Brandon Red Nosers were able to draw on a crew of 153 volunteers, down from 194 last year. These are folks who are willing to take a late-night shift during a family-heavy time, and to drive inebriated strangers’ vehicles at night in possibly unfamiliar areas on icy streets. It sounds like a white-knuckled experience to us, and we applaud their dedication.
But there aren’t enough of them.
Just 54 rides were given out on New Year’s Eve — the program’s busiest night. Last year, they managed 96 and the year before that, 125.
Gladden Smith, a board member for Operation Red Nose, said that the lack of volunteers meant they were able to field just three teams on New Year’s Eve (teams are required so that there are enough people to drive the drivers back after they take you and your vehicle home).
He said they needed more like 15 teams.
Busy phone lines meant longer wait times for people who wanted to use the service. At times, callers had left by the time teams managed to arrive.
We hope they found another safe way home — perhaps the bus, which was running for free that night.
Perhaps annoyance at the wait times made people a little more tight-fisted when it came time to fork over a donation, too.
The solution is obvious: More people have to step up and pitch in.
Brandon used to have a well-deserved reputation as a volunteer town. We more than made up for our smaller size by coming together as a community to help out with community causes.
We understand that there is an upper limit on the number of volunteer hours that people can reasonably be expected to give. We ran a story in yesterday’s paper about the Heart and Stroke Foundation also needing more people to step up and help during its February campaign. And the volunteer-driven Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival has fewer pavilions this year.
It’s not too late for all of us to make a resolution this year: How about resolving be a volunteer?
And if you shirk that duty, but still take advantage of volunteer labour, why not resolve to open your wallet a little bit wider?