New Year’s Eve is becoming a busy night for café owner Mary Veronneau.
For the last two years, the owner of Mary’s in Comox has been operating a volunteer designated driving service on Dec. 31, shuttling people to and from parties in an attempt to reduce drinking and driving on its most infamous night in the Comox Valley.
Similar to Quebec’s Operation Red Nose escorting service, Veronneau’s initiative — Operation Red Bow — was inspired just before New Year’s Eve in 2016. Veronneau said she wanted to stay sober that night, as she was making dinner for her mother who was battling cancer.
Veronneau said another factor for starting Operation Red Bow was reading about a flurry of DUI incidents reported in the Comox Valley around Christmastime 2016.
“I saw the need, with six DUIs the week before New Year’s Eve that were reported in the Comox Valley,” she said. “There was no such service like Operation Red Nose. So I decided to change my cafe into a call centre.”
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Veronneau posted her plans on social media, which quickly led to a flood of local interest.
“Originally it was supposed to just be me driving people with my car,” she said. “I put the advertisement on Instagram and Facebook three days before New Year’s Eve and within two days, it had hit over 30,000 views in the Comox Valley.”
She also decided to use Operation Red Bow as a way to raise money for the cancer clinic where her mother was receiving treatment.
“I ended up having six volunteers on the road and we raised over $900 for the cancer clinic.”
After a successful inaugural event in 2016, Veronneau decided to run Operation Red Bow again for New Year’s Eve 2017. She said she and her volunteers shuttled about 100 people to and from parties that night.
“It felt natural to do it again this year,” she said. “We had cars provided from two dealerships, from Mike at Reliable Auto Shop and Sue from Finneron Hyundai. All my volunteers had their cars provided and we raised over $1,200, and we chose the charity MADD Comox Valley.”
Veronneau said she will continue to operate the designated driving service, which is becoming a “fun annual tradition,” and will select a new charity to donate to each year.
“Our whole point of being is to get people home safe,” she said.