Delivering pizzas, samosas and Deepavali cheer to 10,000 migrant workers in Singapore

Mr Rajesh Khiantani (far right) and his wife Sanjana deliver items to migrant workers at a construction site in Newton on Saturday (Nov 13). PHOTO: COURTESY OF SANJANA KHIANTANI

SINGAPORE - For three hours on Saturday (Nov 13) morning, car after car pulled up along Arcadia Road in Bukit Timah to pick up boxes of vegetarian pizza and samosas.

This ad-hoc fleet of about 150 vehicles had one job - to deliver food and spread Deepavali cheer to migrant workers at work sites all over Singapore, as well as to those toiling away on the roads here.

The endeavour, something of a yearly tradition for migrant worker charity ItsRainingRaincoats (IRR), took about two months to plan, said Ms Dipa Swaminathan, the founder of the non-profit.

This involved identifying which work sites to deliver the food to, figuring out how many cars, provided and driven by volunteers, were needed, and matching drivers to these work sites.

Saturday's food, which went to more than 10,000 workers, was sponsored by donors and matched by Pizza Hut, Alt Pizza and caterer Gourmet Ready.

About 1,400 pizzas were delivered, with Pizza Hut donating 1,000 of them.

Ms Dipa said: "Migrant workers get the same monotonous food every day. They get a mound of rice with a little gravy on it and sometimes it is left at their work sites in the morning and it goes rancid by the time they eat it."

"They, just like any of us, like variety in their food. So pizza is a treat that we'd like to give them during this time. From experience, we know they love it. That is why we do it every year," she added.

IRR has been conducting donation drives for migrant workers during Deepavali for six years, distributing mobile data top-up cards, pizzas, samosas and sweets.

Since 2018, the charity has been conducting one-day "drive and distribute" events, though the format was tweaked last year to comply with Covid-19 measures. Several collection points were set up when previously drivers collected the goodies from one place.

Among the drivers who volunteered to deliver the food on Saturday was Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, as well as Trade and Industry Alvin Tan.

Mr Tan, who was with his wife and two children, said: "What Dipa and IRR are doing is getting the whole community involved... Personally, I want the kids to know that migrant workers are the ones who are away from their homes.

"They are here to make a living and they are the ones who build our roads, schools, hospitals and homes. The next generation must know and they must also do."

IRR has been conducting donation drives for migrant workers during Deepavali for six years. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Mr Tan also participated in IRR's food donation drive last year, delivering pizzas to the same work site in Spooner Road as he did this year.

The Tanjong Pagar GRC MP, whose Moulmein-Cairnhill ward oversees Little India, said he was also happy to see that the pilot scheme allowing dormitory residents to visit the community has been expanded to 3,000 workers a week.

"It is a way for them to get out and we should allow them to do that. It is the right thing to do for them," Mr Tan said.

For Mrs Sanjana Khiantani and her husband Rajesh, helping to deliver food to migrant workers during Deepavali was a way for them to give back.

The couple, both 48, went to a work site in Amber Gardens before they drove around to find other workers they could surprise with samosas and other treats.

Mrs Khiantani, who works in real estate, said: "If we can celebrate, why not them?"

About 1,400 pizzas were delivered, with Pizza Hut donating 1,000 of them. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

For one construction worker, who gave his name only as Panti, the free food was the cherry on top of what has been a relatively joyous Deepavali.

For the first time in almost two years, the 30-year-old was allowed to leave his dorm for four hours to visit Little India, where he was able to celebrate the Hindu Festival of Lights with friends and relatives.

He said: "Last year, because of lockdown I could not go out. This year, I am very happy."

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.