By TWC2 volunteer Heidi M, based on interviews in September 2020

Something’s different tonight at TWC2’s meal prgramme. There are several cartons of things for giving away. A kind donor delivered some food and household items for us to hand over to the workers. We don’t want to allocate because different men will need or want different things. We let them choose what they want to take.

I look closely at what’s in the cartons. There is mosquito repellent air freshener, hand wash, body wash, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, antiseptic tissues, canned sardines, cup noodles and chocolate cookies.

In the same corner we also have fruits. TWC2 purchases fruits for the men three times a week, to make sure they get their Vitamin C.

All the workers who come by for their free meal are genuinely appreciative of the gesture of the donor. Some take their time to choose, whilst others are happy to take one of each.

But “How to carry?” — it’s a common question.

Some pack the items in their fruit bags. Some decide to solve the problem by only taking an item or two. Still, it may be a little awkward to walk around the streets  carrying a can of sardines in hand. Never mind.

Speaking of sardines, TWC2 president Debbie wonders aloud at the start of the evening: “Will there be any takers? Do they even know what sardines in tomato sauce is? Canned food is not something found in the Bengali diet.”

Yet, Debbie needn’t have worried. By the end of the evening, all the canned sardines are taken.

The most popular however are the chocolate cookies. They are a hit. Whilst I personally think they have a bit of a wooden taste, someone else happily finishes the whole packet as we speak.

The hand wash is the first item to run out, probably for two reasons: everyone needs a handwash and it comes in a nice small container.

And what’s this?

The dishwashing liquid on the other hand, causes not only confusion but some laughter as well. The liquid comes in a 5kg container. Only the strongest men will even consider carrying such an item by hand back to their rooms up to a kilometre away. Take into consideration that many of the men who get the free meal at TWC2 are not working because of an injury, for some carrying extra five kilos is not a good idea.

Because of the size of the container, many are also mistaking it for floor washing detergent. One man looks at me hoping for an answer: “How to wash?”

I try to explain how to wash dishes and point to the picture of plates on the container. He looks at me and shakes his head. It isn’t about him not willing to wash his dishes – it’s simply that he doesn’t have any plates to wash.

In the meantime, someone else, without scrutinising the picture of plates on the label, opens the container cap, smells the citrus liquid and asks if it’s really body wash. Others around him burst into laughter.

When all the other donated items are gone from the table, the dishwashing liquid is still there and the men are still wondering about it. “Can use for exercise?” someone suggests as he lifts the container. “Know how to wash?” a worker asked another one who comes by. “Yes.”

“Okay take it!”

Most men smile and shy away from carrying the bright yellow weight back home. But a few men take the item. “I’ll bet some of them are really going to use it as body wash,” says Alex.

The top needs

When almost every item has been taken away, I talk to the workers to understand what would be on their wish list.

One worker starts: “Body wash, body lotion, shampoo… yes, and soup!”

“Soup?” I look at everyone, confused.

“Yes, soup. Soup,” one in the crowd answers. “Body soup.”

“Oh SOAP”

“Yes yes body soap. The bar type.”

“Body spray also!” says a man to my right. Maybe he means deodorant.

“And body wash… Johnson & Johnson!” someone shouts out his very specific wish.

“This is a great list!” I say. “Anything else? Did you like the sardines and noodles?”

“I like the biscuits… Maybe chocolate! And Red Bull!”

I give a disapproving look, knowing all the side effects of Red Bull.

“Red Bull no good” someone chips in to support me.

“Okay soft drinks,” I say, hoping for nods of approval, which I get. “Okay, I will just write ‘drinks’.”

Then the discussion goes back to the dishwashing liquid and we talk a worker into taking the last container.

We are thankful at TWC2 for every donation. We write this article and ask for workers’ feedback as we also want to get the word out there about what they really need and what they may have little use for.

Remember that donations that are not usable or appropriate can be a drain on a charity’s staff. For example, if a clothing item offered is so worn that the only option is to dump it, it means the charity has to do the extra work of disposal.

Alex advises, “It would be best if donors check with us if an item will really be useful before delivering. Some items may be more suited for other charities than for migrant workers. Moreover, timing is important too. If two donation lots come in at the same time, the problem of how the men can carry these things back is multiplied.”

From this evening’s experience, personal hygiene items are clearly top of the wish list, especially if they come in small neat packages that are easy to take home. Biscuits and chocolate get voted in, too.

Money’s most flexible

Most useful of all for any charity would be monetary donations. For example, it is the money from wellwishers which enable TWC2 to arrange a thrice-weekly delivery of fruits to supplement the men’s meals. The fruit-vendor, having a steady volume of orders from us, gives us a good price too, so the money goes a longer way.

All monetary donations received will go into the general fund that is meant to support all activities of TWC2. More details can be read on our website: https://twc2.org.sg/getinvolved/donate/

Everyone understands the importance of donations to non-profit organisations. Our passionate team at Transient Workers Count Too relies on donations to keep our mission going. We don’t have the time to write about every donation, but we are grateful to every offer, large or small.

So this is a big thank you to all our donors.