Known to riders and fellow community members as “Mama Dee,” Delores Meador takes pride in providing safe transportation to avoid drunken driving crashes and protect anyone affected by them.
Meador is the program coordinator for the Baraboo Bar Buddies group, which like other chapters in the area, offers a safe alternative for people to get home without getting behind the wheel while impaired.
“I’ve become friends with these people, and they tell me this is the best thing that has happened to Baraboo,” Meador said. “I know we’re making a difference.”
The Baraboo Bar Buddies group gave 16,000 free rides home in 2018, Meador said.
In nearby Sauk Prairie, the local Bar Buddies group there drove 6,263 people home in 2018. Between January and July this year, the group has helped 3,166 people, finance director Alison Horne said.
The Columbia County Tavern League is another resource.
The organization picked up $20,065 in operating costs and offered rides to 3,370 people in fiscal year 2019, which ended July 30, said Lisa Thompson, Columbia County Tavern League President, Treasurer and Safe Ride Coordinator.
Thompson has been involved with the Columbia County Tavern League for more than 20 years. The safe ride program has been active for 15 of them.
She said the Tavern League of Wisconsin and state government allocate grant funding every year to help local groups cover costs for safe ride programs. Local raffles also help.
“Not many states have anything like it. It’s a very unique program,” Thompson said.
As a reward to encourage people to be responsible if they’ve had too many drinks and realize they shouldn’t drive, Thompson said patrons can be reimbursed between $10 and $30 under a Good Samaritan policy if they find a safe ride home through third parties such as the Portage Cab Company.
Community members can ask bartenders at any participating location to help them find a ride home, Thompson said. At least 41 establishments in Columbia County are listed online at tlw.org/league/ColumbiaCounty.
Reedsburg has its own Bar Buddies group. The Reedsburg organization operates rides each Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Sauk Prairie Bar Buddies group also has expanded to offer rides to people who need a ride home from the hospital if they don’t have family members in the area, Horne said.
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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation offers a highway safety grant every October, which Horne said helps the Sauk Prairie Bar Buddies cover some operating costs and phone bills.
Insurance fees alone amount to $10,000 per year, and other program costs reach $50,000 annually, Horne said.
But the cost is well worth it, Horne said. She grew up in Sauk Prairie and wants to help foster a safer community in which to raise her children.
Sauk Prairie Bar Buddies Program Coordinator Heather Ceaser said the organization has provided safe transportation for wedding parties and bar-hoppers on various occasions.
Ceaser said she’s driven people home from emergency rooms before, because taxi services may not be available in the middle of the night.
While rides home are free, extra services are charged. Prices are listed online at saukprairie.com/list/member/bar-buddies-ltd-1821.
Ceaser said when she and the other members see regular customers call for rides and support the group, she feels good about making a consistent difference in the community.
“They can enjoy themselves, have a good time and know they have a safe way to get home,” Ceaser said.
For some community leaders like Meador, the effort feels personal.
Meador said a relative and two friends of hers have died in alcohol-related crashes.
She and her daughter Melissa Blue led an initiative alongside Blue’s friend Amber Hulett in 2013 to start up the Baraboo Bar Buddies group, inspired by the similar organization in Sauk Prairie, Meador said.
Since then, Meador said she’s heard from public officials that the group has been a positive influence in the community.
By giving safe rides home and encouraging fellow citizens not to drive while impaired, Meador said the impact of various local safe ride programs is amazing while the goal remains simple: “So we don’t have to bury another friend or family member.”