Monday 16 February 2015

Special needs people pitch in for CNY

Beneficiaries make festive goods such as cookies and cards, which raise funds for programmes
By Benson Ang, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2015

This Chinese New Year, the hongbao you receive and the pineapple tarts you eat might have been made by someone who is intellectually disabled.

The hampers and goodie bags you receive may have been packed by someone with physical disabilities.

Chinese New Year is boomtime for disability groups which let their beneficiaries produce festive goodies such as pineapple tarts, cookies, hongbao, greeting cards, e-cards, as well as pack hampers and goodie bags.

Demand for such products allows these organisations to raise money, which in turn can be used to fund programmes or pay allowances to their beneficiaries.

For example, the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) has already sold 150 sets of handmade hongbao envelopes this year to organisations or individuals, five times more than it did last year.

It has also sold 300 tubs of pineapple tarts made by its beneficiaries this year, 100 more than it did last year.

Each tub costs $18 and contains 26 tarts.

Ms Ng Rei Na, senior manager for social enterprises at MINDS, says: "We had to turn down some customers as everything is made by hand and we don't want to do a rushed job and compromise on quality."

In all, sales of red packets, pineapple tarts, and other goodies such as cookies and packaged nuts are estimated to raise more than $12,000 for MINDS, which go towards paying allowances to beneficiaries at its employment development centres.

Bizlink, a non-profit organisation which provides employment services to the disadvantaged, especially to people with disabilities, has sold more than 200 Chinese New Year hampers packed by its beneficiaries this year, 10 times as many as it did in 2013.

The hampers, priced at $38 to $188, range from simple ones with eight mandarin oranges and a box of chocolates to bigger ones consisting of cans of abalone and eight treasure soup, boxes of almond cake and chocolates and packets of flower mushrooms and golden raisins.

This year, Bizlink has also sold more than 20 customised hampers, worth up to $888 each.

Ms Carol Heng, senior manager of Bizlink's floral and hamper social enterprise, says: "More manpower is required during Chinese New Year season.

"We usually need three to five extra beneficiaries to help with packing the hampers."

SPD, an organisation which represents Singapore's disabled, sees increased demand for its packing services during the Chinese New Year festive period.

For example, this year is the first time SPD's beneficiaries are packing 50,000 goodie bags for the Chingay Parade later this month.

About 35 beneficiaries started packing last Wednesday and the job takes about eight days to complete.

Its executive director, Mr Abhimanyau Pal, says: "For us, Chinese New Year is one of the busiest times of the year. It's really all hands on deck.

"This year, we even got 15 volunteers to help with the Chingay project. But we are grateful because the income generated will go towards funding our programme to provide training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities."

Businesses that engage disability groups say they want to support people with disabilities and provide them with employment opportunities.

The Soup Restaurant, for example, bought 100 sets of hongbao - at $8 a packet - from MINDS last month to distribute to customers buying a reunion dinner take-away set from the restaurant's booth at this year's Takashimaya Chinese New Year fair.

The restaurant's business development head, Mr Ang Kian Peng, 37, says: "It's meaningful to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and we want to encourage them to keep contributing.

"Their hongbao are also very beautiful and we hope giving out handmade hongbao will make our customers feel special."

Engineering and repair company SWTS bought 32 hampers - each costing about $168 - from Bizlink this year to give to its business associates.

Its general manager, Mr Peter Lim, 61, says: "We want to promote the products made by people with disabilities, to give them jobs and help them be employed. Their hampers are professionally packaged."

Beneficiaries are happy with the additional work opportunities available during the festive period.

MINDS beneficiary Jenny Lim, 37, who has Down syndrome, has been decorating hongbao with festive messages and designs for five hours a day since last month. In a day, she can decorate up to 50 hongbao.

She says: "I like the work. It's fun and I can be around my friends."

Bizlink beneficiary Agnes Tan, 51, who lost a leg to bone cancer, has been packing Chinese New Year hampers for eight hours a day since last month.

She says: "Working keeps me busy and useful. I also imagine how happy others will be when they receive the hamper and this makes me happy too."

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