In Douglas Adams’ classic science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 is imbued with cosmic significance as the ultimate answer to “life, the universe and everything.”
For local volunteers at Operation Red Nose, the number has taken on its own meaning in recent years -- with the Prince Albert contingent receiving 42 calls for service at the dawn of both 2013 and 2014.
“We talked about that after,” Operation Red Nose chairman James Wilm noted. “It was exactly the same number as last year for New Year’s Eve.”
Volunteers had a busy night overall, with more than 100 people taking advantage of the service.
Six teams made up of 22 volunteers in total worked through the night to pick up intoxicated clients and drive them home safely in their own vehicles.
Calls this year began later in the night, but soon picked up dramatically.
“I think we got our first call around 11 o’clock and as midnight came on,” Wilm said. “And then after, from then ’til 4 o’clock in the morning, it was just non-stop.”
While the number of calls on New Year’s Eve remained exactly the same as last year, all other figures indicate that the popularity of Operation Red Nose only continues to grow in the program’s third year in Prince Albert.
From its start on Nov. 29 until New Year’s Eve, Operation Red Nose volunteers this year provided 181 rides home for approximately 400 people, compared to a little more than 150 rides last year.
Wilm pointed to a number of repeat users, further underscoring the program’s rising popularity in the community as it becomes entrenched as a safer alternative for getting home during the holiday season.
“We picked up two different families that had been out visiting or with friends for New Year’s and had called us because they’d had a couple of social drinks and just decided ‘Well, the safest way for me to go home now is to phone Operation Red Nose,’” Wilm said.
That support has also translated into increased donations for the program.
Where Operation Red Nose received donations amounting to $2,600 last year, this year it raised more than $3,000.
“We've always advertised (that) we don’t charge anything, but we do take donations, and again, it showed very, very clearly the support we got from the community,” Wilm said.
We got our first call around 11 o’clock and as midnight came on ... From then ’til 4 o’clock in the morning, it was just non-stop. James Wilm
“All of this donated money must be returned to the community to youth programs,” he added. “So we’re going to sit down now and see where the needs are and see who we can benefit back into the community with these donations that we received.”
The Prince Albert Lions Club recruits volunteers in part through sign-up sheets at events the club organizes throughout the year.
A growing source of volunteers are SIAST students entering programs such as law or policing who are asked to perform community volunteer service, as Wilm noted in the case of one New Year’s Eve volunteer.
Yet younger residents are also increasingly taking advantage of Operation Red Nose to procure rides home.
“It’s nice to see that younger people are participating,” Wilm said.
“They can see the benefit of it and this year, too, even some of the rides we picked up, a lot of them were young people and they very much appreciated it that they were given the opportunity to be taken home safely … It’s certainly proving its worth here in Prince Albert.”
Despite working through the night, Operation Red Nose volunteers still managed to ring in the New Year with plentiful pizza and coffee in the club room.
Wilm said volunteers were perfectly content in their role as designated drivers for the city -- happy to spend New Year’s helping the community as other residents let their hair down for an evening of holiday revelry.
Looking ahead, preparations for next year’s Operation Red Nose will begin as early as May, as the Lions Club co-ordinates its efforts with the national program centre.
Wilm expressed his thanks to residents for their continued support of Operation Red Nose.
“Without the community, we couldn’t make it work, and we really want to thank Prince Albert for that support.”