ABU DHABI //Construction workers found themselves in the surprise possession of goody bags yesterday filled with a fried chicken sandwich, biscuits, an apple or a banana, orange juice and a bottle of water.
As they got on their buses, the workers were met by a group of volunteers, social workers, students and teachers who handed out 2,000 care packages in what they fondly call the "Big Bus Raid".
"It's nice that there are people thinking about us," said Karigalan Rajan, a 30-year-old mechanic from India, who was inside one of the 31 buses at a car park on the Corniche. "We're all happy to get something."
Sumon Islam, a 23-year-old mason from Bangladesh, said he hoped it would be a monthly event.
"Everybody was surprised to receive a bag," he said. "We're tired and hungry after working from 6am to 6pm at the construction site."
Donations were made by UAE residents and international supporters who bought a special online "Valentine's Care Package for Labourers" for Dh14 from February 14 to 18.
A Valentine's Day special deal on the LivingSocial website was sold out at about 8.45pm on February 18, with 3,500 care packages donated by the community.
The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi donated 3,500 reusable bags. The remaining 1,500 goody bags will be distributed to the labourers in another Big Bus Raid next month.
Pamela Abdalla, a former Abu Dhabi resident who is now living in the United States, is the founder of the Worker Bus Raids, which started out with a few snack packs delivered to local workers in the neighbourhood. It has since reached thousands of workers.
The Bus Raids service programme is now managed by Mariam Al Mazrouei, Suparna Mathur, Bahareh Amidi and Karen Heimgartner.
There have been about a dozen bus raids organised by volunteers such as those from the American Community School, who were also present at yesterday's event.
"What's beautiful about bus raids is that it is logistically simple but profound in meaning," said Ms Al Mazrouei, a 24-year-old Emirati graduate student at Zayed University who also works in the Government. "Everyone can join, both locals and expats, from kids to teenagers to adults."
Amna Al Mazrouei, a nine-year-old Emirati, handed out a bag along with her brother Ali, 11. "This is the first time I have joined the bus raids," she said. "I feel happy to give them something."
Salama Al Qubaisi, 8, queued with her brother Khalifa, 6, and sister Mariam, 7, to distribute bags to the workers.
"I feel nice to give something and help people," she said.
The Bus Raids team was questioned via Twitter and email why the community should give food packages to the labourers when they are already provided with basic meals, said Ms Mathur, a social entrepreneur in Abu Dhabi.
The concept behind the bus raids is not to provide an "essential" but something "special" by including foods that are special treats workers would not ordinarily receive.
"We could send 3,500 meals directly to their camp like any other day," Ms Mathur said. "But by physically being there, handing them out to them with a smile, we are showing them that they are appreciated and, if only for a moment, not alone."