Brainerd safe rides are back after $10,000 Essentia Health grant
Starting at the end of July 2022, the pilot program took over 800 participants home safely until Jan. 31 when they had to stop giving rides due to lack of funding.
BRAINERD — Suspended due to lack of funding after months of serving the Brainerd area, the Brainerd Lakes Towards Zero Deaths' Better Bar Safe Ride program started back up Friday, March 3.
“A big win for us was to get the St. Joseph Foundation grant of $10,000, which was wonderful and a validation that this program is worthwhile,” said Deb Prazak, Brainerd Lakes Toward Zero Deaths social media coordinator.
Prazak said Brainerd Lakes Toward Zero Deaths started discussing a safe ride program for the area in 2019, though it was put on hold during the pandemic. In early 2022, planning for the program started back up and by the end of July 2022, the pilot program took over 800 participants home safely — until Jan. 31, when its funding ran out.
If we save one life, we've done our job with this program.
It was around that same time Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Foundation announced it would grant the program $10,000 to keep it running.
“If we can save only one life with this program, it's worth every penny we can throw at it,” Prazak said.
The St. Joseph’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports community health initiatives and Essentia Health facilities in the Brainerd lakes area, for which the Better Bar Safe Ride program qualifies.
“For us, to be able to prevent one person from getting into a crash, potentially harming themselves or others on the road — we believe that we've done our job,” said Matt Maier, Baxter Police Department assistant chief. “If we save one life, we've done our job with this program.”
Maier said Brainerd Lakes Toward Zero Deaths dropped the amount per ride from $25 to $20 in an effort to make the program more sustainable in the long run.
Hoping to see the program move out of its pilot stage one day, Maier would like to eventually cover establishments in the Baxter area, but expansion at the moment is restricted by funding and sustainability.
But the interest in the program is proving its popularity and, hopefully, its potential for future growth in the Brainerd lakes area.
“Going back to the numbers — we're over 800 rides already,” Maier said. “We believe that shows that there is a need for a safe ride home.”
Getting a sober ride becomes more difficult in rural areas, said Quinn Hoffman, assistant Crow Wing County attorney assigned to Crow Wing County’s DWI Court.
If we can save only one life with this program, it's worth every penny we can throw at it.
“In the metro areas, there may be more of that type of (ride-sharing options) available,” Hoffman said. “Up here, being a little more rural, it's probably a little more difficult to get those ride options. We don't really have that Uber or Lyft infrastructure in place where people can just go outside the bar and hop in. So they have the option to use the sober ride.”
Steve Shepherd, owner of Shep's On 6th in downtown Brainerd, is a strong advocate for the Better Bar Safe Ride program. He said one of the worst scenarios in his industry would be someone leaving an establishment and getting injured — or worse, killing someone else.
“Every bartender I work with, on my end, was just ecstatic that we had this program because we consider everyone to be family, maybe not exactly family, but we feel like they are,” said Shepherd. “And we just want them to get home safe.”
Shepherd said the program is one of the first of its kind in Brainerd that he can remember, and he is happy to have the program available to his patrons.
The hope of all involved is that the program will not only continue but prosper and grow.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to the sustainability of the program and what we can do,” Maier said. “And with any type of program like this, we're looking for different ideas, and there's always going to be growing pains. So we're just trying to figure out the best ways to provide those rides but make it sustainable in the area and expand it out.”
TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email email@example.com .