Rid­ing with Ru­dolph

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Coat­i­cook

For the last thirty years, in this re­gion of the Town­ships, vol­un­teers wear­ing bright red tu­nics, and some­times big red noses, have been pick­ing up hol­i­day rev­el­ers at par­ties and in bars and bring­ing them (and their cars) home safely. Hun­dreds of Nez Rouge vol­un­teers, head­quar­tered in Sher­brooke,

Coat­i­cook and Ma­gog, have been cov­er­ing a big ter­ri­tory, usu­ally in the wee hours of the morn­ing, prob­a­bly much big­ger than peo­ple re­al­ize.

“Peo­ple in Stanstead, Ayer’s Cliff or North Hat­ley can call us. Last week­end, one of our teams was gone for five hours on a call. Even peo­ple who haven’t been drink­ing but are just too tired to drive can call us. If some­one calls the Sher­brooke Nez Rouge, they’ll find the clos­est team to go and pick them up,” said Diane He­bert, a ten year vol­un­teer with the Coat­i­cook Op­er­a­tion Nez Rouge in an in­ter­view at their tem­po­rary head­quar­ters in the Coat­i­cook Soc­cer Chalet.

“Each Nez Rouge team has three peo­ple: two peo­ple to go with the client and their car while a third per­son drives the pick-up car. That way the per­son’s car is at their home the next day,” ex­plained Ms. He­bert. The intrepid Nez Rouge vol­un­teers drive all over the coun­try­side as well as in cities and towns to get peo­ple safely home. “Each team has a spe­cial ra­dio with them to com­mu­ni­cate with head­quar­ters in case they need help to find a street or in case of an ac­ci­dent,” said Ms. He­bert as she showed me a dozen ra­dios sit­ting on a ta­ble, wait­ing for Fri­day night’s fun to be­gin. “Some­times we even have teenagers manning the ra­dios at head­quar­ters. They are ‘la releve’ of to­mor­row.”

There are about sixty or seventy vol­un­teers with Coat­i­cook’s Nez Rouge club, some as young as eigh­teen and oth­ers in their seven­ties. Asked how she got in­volved, Ms. He­bert said: “My par­ents were both Nez Rouge vol­un­teers for a few years and, one night dur­ing the holidays, I had noth­ing to do so I de­cided to vol­un­teer. Just last week­end, a group of friends called and said they had noth­ing to do that night so had thought about volun- teer­ing. We said: Come on down!”

Coat­i­cook’s Op­er­a­tion Nez Rouge runs ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day night, be­gin­ning with the last week­end of Novem­ber, up to and in­clud­ing De­cem­ber 31st, when the calls for lifts reach their peak, usu­ally about fifty to sixty in the space of a few hours. “Some­times we have a quiet night and some­times the tele­phone doesn’t stop ring­ing. We’re busiest when the bars close, be­tween 2:00 and 3:00 am. It’s like a sprint in the fi­nal hours and ev­ery­one drinks a lot of cof­fee, but it’s fun. When it’s not busy, we play cards or games. We of­ten have a free lunch for the vol­un­teers, pro­vided by a lo­cal restau­rant,” said Ms. He­bert.

Some lo­cal Coat­i­cook or­ga­ni­za­tions have made it a tra­di­tion to vol­un­teer with Nez Rouge. “The par­ents and an­i­ma­tors of the Scouts al­ways come and work in teams the first night that we run, and the board of di­rec­tors of Coat­i­cook’s soc­cer club will come, with friends, to do it on De­cem­ber 14th. The Nez Rouge has al­ways been a well-sup­ported cause around here.”

Leo Goupil, a vol­un­teer driver in his six­ties, has been sup­port­ing the cause for eigh­teen years. “I’d like to do it for twenty years and, if my health con­tin­ues, even longer. My girl­friend let’s me leave to come here at 10:00 pm, af­ter she goes to bed,” he joked. “I do it be­cause I might have saved lives up un­til now. I’ve driven my son and, re­cently, my eigh­teen year-old grand­son! Just last week­end I drove 189 kilo­me­tres for Nez Rouge,” said Mr. Goupil who uses his Chrysler 300 as the vol­un­teer pick-up car, fol­low­ing his two team mem­bers to the home of the clients, then bring­ing them back to head­quar­ters or to the next call. “I have heated seats so they usu­ally fight to see who sits in front.”

Mr. Goupil con­tin­ued: “To­day, most peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate what we do for them; years ago, peo­ple we picked up were some­times ag­gres­sive. But, even to­day, some think we put the dona­tions into our pock­ets.” Vol­un­teers who use their own cars are ac­tu­ally paid a mere fif­teen cents a kilome­ter, barely enough to pay for the gas.

Last Fri­day, the day of the in­ter­view, Ms. He­bert was ex­pect­ing to have a

busy night. “It’s the Christ­mas party for Couil­lard Con­struc­tion tonight so we’ll have a lot of vol­un­teers ready, eight or nine teams. It will be the same for the Nei­d­ner party, com­ing up soon. Those com­pa­nies are big spon­sors of the Coat­i­cook Nez

Rouge; their work­ers re­ally need to keep their li­censes,” Ms. He­bert said.

Nez Rouge op­er­a­tions are al­ways look­ing for vol­un­teers. The train­ing takes only five min­utes since new­com­ers are al­ways placed on teams with ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teers. They need peo­ple with or with­out driv­ing per­mits since some of the vol­un­teers just go along for the ride. Vol­un­teers must be at least eigh­teen, or twenty-one if they are to drive the cars of call­ers, and they must un­dergo a brief po­lice check.

If you’d like to use the ser­vices of Nez Rouge, the num­bers to call are 819 821-4646 or toll-free 1-866-DES­JARDINS for the Sher­brooke area, 819 8499333 for the Coat­i­cook area, and 819 847-2333 for the Ma­gog area. The Ma­gog and Coat­i­cook Nez Rouge op­er­a­tions will run on De­cem­ber 20th, 21st, 27th, 28th and the 31st. On other nights peo­ple can call the Sher­brooke num­bers to find a lift home. Al­though the ser­vice is free, peo­ple are en­cour­aged to give dona­tions and most do, usu­ally what they would have paid to take a taxi. Re­ceipts for these ‘dona­tions’ are pro­vided for tax pur­poses.

The Coat­i­cook Nez Rouge by the num­bers: Just last week­end alone, fifty-two vol­un­teers, mak­ing up fif­teen three-man teams, ac­com­pa­nied 83 driv­ers and their cars safely home. Last year, af­ter the hol­i­day sea­son, the Coat­i­cook Nez

Rouge club do­nated their prof­its, about $3000, to the Coat­i­cook soc­cer club.

Pho­to­sVic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Nez Rouge vol­un­teers Leo Goupil and Diane He­bert, seen here at the Coat­i­cook Nez Rouge head­quar­ters, hope they hear from YOU this hol­i­day sea­son!

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