The holiday season is officially upon us, and for many Winnipeggers, this means attending an array of festivities sometimes accompanied by a spiked apple cider or two. For Tom and Nadia Chaput, this time of year means making sure once the celebratory parties wrap up, people have a safe ride home. The vibrant and active husband-and-wife duo volunteer every Friday and Saturday evening from late November throughout December for Operation Red Nose, a free designated-driver service available across the city.
The busy parents of twin 10-year-old daughters, Oksana and Tamara, have what can only be described as superhero-like energy when it comes to volunteering. Besides driving around the city for Operation Red Nose from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. every Friday and Saturday, Tom, a high school teacher, and Nadia, a Grade 1 French-immersion teacher, can be found at 6 a.m. on any given day at the pool, volunteering for the Manta Swim Club, of which Oksana is a member.
This is how the Chaputs got involved with Operation Red Nose: It's Manta's biggest fundraiser. When their daughter began swimming for Manta four years ago, the husband and wife quickly became involved not only in volunteering for the swim program, but also in the annual club fundraiser.
Operation Red Noise is a national program established 30 years ago. In 1995, the Manta Swim Club brought it to Winnipeg. The concept is simple -- promoting responsible drinking in order to keep the streets safe for everyone during the holiday season and offering Winnipeggers a free ride home in their own car. Although there is no charge for the service, satisfied customers often offer a donation to the volunteers who drive them home.
"Over the years, for us it's become less about fundraising and more about fun," Tom says with a laugh, glancing at his wife. "Though it does really help Manta and keep the kids in the water."
Tom and Nadia say volunteering for Operation Red Nose means meeting lots of great people, volunteers and clients alike, having great conversations and driving to different areas of the city they perhaps had never explored.
For Nadia, it's also about keeping the streets safe.
"I'm always glad to see people are making good choices," she says. "So often, we see in the news people making bad choices."
Nadia said they pick up customers ranging from 18-year-olds coming out of bars to elderly people returning home from a family gathering.
Tom and Nadia say volunteering is definitely a family affair, adding they wouldn't be able to give of their time without the help of their parents, who babysit Oksana and Tamara while they are out with Operation Red Nose.
"It definitely takes a village," says Nadia. Tom adds: "But we've been volunteering for so long now, it's like a fine-oiled machine."
The Chaputs, whom Sharra Hinton, co-ordinator of Operation Red Nose, describes as a "fun and upbeat pair," have also volunteered on Operation Red Nose's float for the Santa Claus Parade. Sometimes Nadia volunteers for telephone operations.
"It's a great lesson for our daughters," says Nadia. Tom adds: "It can sometimes be tough, the long hours, but we do it anyway because we want our children to see that even if it's not always easy, we make sure that we're giving back to our community. And Christmas is definitely the season of giving."
Oksana nods in agreement, looking up at her parents with pride.
Operation Red Nose operates for 12 nights in the holiday season -- Nov. 29 and 30, Dec. 6, 7, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 27, 28 and 31. New Year's Eve is the busiest night. Those interested in volunteering can go to www.rednosewpg.ca to learn more. Those looking to use the service can phone 204-947-NOSE.
If you know a special volunteer, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at: firstname.lastname@example.org.