SINGAPORE — For the past five years, a Residents’ Committee (RC) in Tampines Changkat has been organising a used clothing donation drive for needy families during the Hari Raya festive season, bringing much cheer to the recipients.
It all started with one resident approaching the RC manager for used baju kurungs in 2013. The woman’s husband had left her at the age of 27, and she was raising four children single-handedly.
“She only had three sets of clothing in her closet – for work, for home and for weddings. She asked whether my manager could help and give her used clothing,” recounted RC chairperson Suzana Ahmad. “My manager said we can do better. We’ll do a collection.”
Believing that more residents might be in need of clothing for the festive season, the RC kick-started a donation drive at a centre tucked away at the void deck of Block 124 Tampines Street 11.
That year, they gave away clothing such as baju kurungs and kebayas to 70 Muslim families in their estate.
The recipients’ appreciation for the second-hand clothing came as a pleasant surprise to the volunteers involved in the donation drive.
“The first year, we were afraid that people wouldn’t accept them, (but) we had a few residents who received the clothes and started kissing them, even though they were preloved... it really opened our eyes because we didn’t know people would want preloved clothes,” said Ms Suzana, a 59-year-old consultant.
As for the resident who had inspired the drive, Ms Suzana said the single mum was overwhelmed with emotion when she was told the RC had some clothes for her.
“She thought she could only collect one, but when we told her she could collect more, she cried and fell to the floor,” she said.
Since then, the RC has organised the charity event annually, with 200 families receiving clothing this year, down from 300 last year. The list has shrunk as some residents have moved out of the estate, said Ms Suzana.
To ensure that recipients do not feel short-changed, her team of 15 volunteers, of which only three are RC members, scrutinise the donated items with an eagle eye.
Incomplete sets of clothing, either missing the top or the bottom, will be discarded, whereas the rest will be sorted and packed away.
Although it is a collection drive for used clothes, Ms Suzana stressed that donors sometimes also give away new clothes, with the price tags attached.
She has even written to boutiques, and received a sponsorship of 600 new kebayas this year.
Starting Saturday (June 17), families will be invited to the collection centre to pick their outfits. Much effort has been put in to turn the centre into a “boutique”, with aromatherapy fragrances filling the air and clothes displayed neatly on racks.
“We want them to feel like they are going to a boutique. If it doesn’t fit, they can give it back to us,” said Ms Suzana.
“You must understand we are giving to people who are very stressed out. I don’t want them to receive clothes that are torn or are not nice... You disrespect them,” she added.
Apart from the charity event, Ms Suzana also pointed to the butterfly garden near the collection centre as a platform for residents to connect. It was started in November 2011 by Ms Irene Ng, a former Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC.
A group of 100 enthusiasts, comprising professionals such as teachers and HR managers, formed an interest group, taking charge of breeding butterflies and gardening.
Outside the garden is a wooden bench dedicated to a late founding member, Mr Victor Oh.
Mr Oh had been dejected after being diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer, and even harboured suicidal thoughts.
However, his mood lifted after receiving a recruitment flyer for the interest group, and he decided to join the group, breeding insects and teaching other members about them.
Mr Oh died of his illness in January 2013 at the age of 63.
“The day before he passed away, he wrote to his daughter to say that the year he spent with us was the best part of his life,” said Ms Suzana.