MONTREAL -- After a year's absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Operation Red Nose's driver service resumed Friday night, but recruitment has been even more challenging.

"It's a challenge we're all familiar with," said communications director Marilyn Vigneault. "This year, we were waiting to see after that first night, and, in fact, we can see that the current situation has perhaps exacerbated this challenge."

Operation Red Nose provides a safe ride home during the holidays in a person's vehicle if they have had too much to drink.

A total of 293 rides were given on Friday night by 549 volunteers. In comparison, there were close to 2,400 rides by approximately 2,200 volunteers on the same night two years ago.

Organizers point out that it is comparing "apples with oranges" since about 60 regions were in operation in Quebec in 2019 while there were about 20 this year, with local organizations having the choice to return or not.

"The fact remains that, despite the downside, the numbers speak for themselves," said Vigneault, who attributes the difficulties to the pandemic, the shortage of manpower and volunteers that many organizations are experiencing.

All in all, organizers say they are satisfied with the first night, adding that the first weekend is usually quieter since it is not yet December and the holiday spirit is not in full swing, not to mention that the weather was less than pleasant on Friday night in many areas.

Vigneault said she is "very confident" that volunteers will answer the call for the continuation of the campaign, given the very high rate of Quebecers who believe that Operation Red Nose is necessary and that it is an enjoyable experience.

A health guide has been put in place, she said. People who wish to register as a volunteer can do so on the organization's website until December 31.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Nov. 27, 2021.