Spreading festive cheer through food and Deepavali cookies

Brickland ward MP Don Wee (centre) giving Deepavali cookies to Madam Salbiah Yacob. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Boxes of freshly baked festive cookies were delivered to the doorstep of residents of one-room rental flats in Chua Chu Kang on Saturday (Nov 7) morning.

Retiree Salbiah Yacob, 87, whose late husband was Punjabi, said receiving the pineapple tarts, suji cookies and other treats at this time of the year reminded her of when she celebrated Deepavali with him years ago.

Madam Salbiah was one of 200 individuals and families who received the goodies which were meant to ring in the festive spirit of Deepavali which falls on Nov 14.

By Nov 15, close to 2,250 low-income families island-wide will receive festive cookies as part of an initiative by the People's Association Indian Activity Executive Committees Council (Narpani Pearavai), which started distributing the baked goods to households on Nov 1.

The Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (Mesra) is supporting the initiative as well.

On Saturday, volunteers from both councils and their youth sub-committees were joined by Mr Don Wee, MP for Brickland ward, who distributed the cookies to households in Block 813A, Choa Chu Kang Avenue 7.

Mr Wee said: "Through this, we can appreciate each other's culture, and see how we can collaborate to uplift the lives of the underprivileged, to remain an inclusive and compassionate society."

Mr Haridass Vankadasalam, 70, a resident of Block 813A, said the baked goodies brought some light to an otherwise bleak year for him.

Previously a track-and-field coach in an international school, he lost his job early this year due to the pandemic. He was also starting to have knee problems.

He switched to the security field, but works infrequently because of his growing knee pain.

"I had to ask my sisters to support me financially a few times this year," said Mr Vankadasalam, who lives alone.

Another resident, Bavany Vengattaraman, 61, believes it is necessary for residents in the rental flats to stay engaged with officials at the grassroots as well as their neighbours.

Ms Bavany Vengattaraman receiving Deepavali cookies from MP Don Wee. Ms Bavany said she plans to cook for her neighbours and share snacks with them as part of the festivities. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

She plans to cook for her neighbours and share snacks, such as murukku and other Indian sweets, with them next week.

"I'll do that. That's how we celebrate Deepavali," she said.

The Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda), along with its group of senior Indian business leaders, on Saturday also completed the distribution of gift packs, comprising personalised Deepavali greeting cards and cookies, to around 200 low-income Indian families islandwide. The distribution exercise began on Nov 2.

In the same vein of spreading festive cheer, Narpani Pearavai and the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) will be sending Indian vegetarian meals and murukku mixture snacks to about 400 low-income families in 11 neighbourhoods on Sunday. The neighbourhoods include Kebun Baru, Boon Lay and Telok Blangah.

This cooked meals initiative is part of a monthly effort by both organisations to reach out to families affected financially by the Covid-19 pandemic.

HEB's Community Seva Committee's chairman Susila Ganesan said the organisations hope to expand the food distribution programme, which started in September, to more neighbourhoods and needy residents.

"These efforts are especially meaningful during this time when many are facing challenges both economically and emotionally," said Ms Ganesan.

Sinda's chief executive Anbarasu Rajendran said the pandemic has made things tougher for low-income families, and many have approached the self-help group for assistance on financial aid, job security, and also to adapt to home-based learning.

"Facing these challenges in uncertain times has also affected the mental health of many within our community. The Sinda family service centre has seen increased clients this year," added Mr Rajendran.

Sinda has set aside $7 million in financial aid for use till the end of the year to further help those adversely affected through schemes such as increased bursaries, cash payouts, and transport vouchers.

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