Immediately as the 2021 lockdown was announced, GIFT volunteers were once again there as first responders, ready and assembled to do whatever is needed to ensure the community would be supported in a plethora of different ways. Since March 2020, GIFT volunteers have responded to almost 7,000 urgent shopping and prescription requests. Over 13,000 freshly cooked meals have been supplied to the most desperate and vulnerable in our community; over £350,000 of vital food support packages have been distributed by hundreds of dedicated volunteers and over 500 tutoring pairs have been set up to help those struggling with their studies.
Working closely with the other large charities such as JAMI, Jewish Care, Norwood, JWA and Hatzola, GIFT continues to take referrals and provide volunteers and support for all those in need in our community.
In keeping with GIFT’s mission to shift attitudes and behaviours toward giving, GIFT created a number of lock-down 3.0 ‘giving’ initiatives that can be done safely within people’s homes. This includes making gratitude packages for paramedics/Hatzola, making isolation packs for the elderly and a virtual mentoring programme for young people struggling with the lock-down. R’ Sandor Milun, GIFT’s Managing Director, says, “2020 was a tough year for all but one of the most positive things we saw was how our community stepped up and made giving time and helping others an important priority. In 2021 just as we have all these new norms such as wearing masks, and washing our hands, we at GIFT want to make ‘giving’ the new normal”.
GIFT has big plans for 2021 including a year 6 curriculum and an increased engagement with high school and university students. Shira Joseph, GIFT Educator says, “We have seen from the incredible success of our virtual tutoring programme which paired over 500 students aged 16+ with a younger tutee, that students are crying out to get involved and just want to add a positive focus to their lives.’ We hope to introduce some more programmes both in school and out of school and some immersive giving experiences so as to continue where we left off, having given over 730 educational sessions in 2020. One area we will be focusing on in 2021 is Bnei Mitzvah, as 2020 has particularly shown us that this milestone is so much more than just a party and can have some real meaning attached.
Unfortunately, the intensity and longevity of the pandemic has placed a big financial strain on many people in our community and GIFT has seen a dramatic increase in those requiring vital food support. Almost 100 additional families have requested weekly support within the last 10 months.
Michelle Barnett, GIFT’s founding director said, “We have almost doubled the amount of food we now need to give out.This has had a huge financial and logistical impact on our food bank/GIFT hub. The community’s support both in donations of food and money has been absolutely essential. In addition, due to COVID restrictions, our entire operation has been carried out by incredible groups of family units and those in bubbles, coming week after week to pack, sort and organise our GIFT hub. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to support the large numbers we do.’
2021 will see the GIFT giving hub becoming more streamlined and the stock checking and food storage transition to a digital system. This should save huge amounts of time and the food bank will become more cost efficient given the influx of new referrals. GIFT also has big plans to roll out healthy eating initiatives to be able to provide those who are struggling with the opportunity to have access to healthier foods – normally too much of a luxury for those on a very tight budget.
2020 wasn’t an easy year, yet we all adapted and made the best of it. The GIFT staff and volunteers made it that bit easier for those who were on the receiving end whether it was via befriending, receiving cooked meals, shopping, food deliveries and tutoring. The way that people stepped up and were willing to help complete strangers – over 6400 responses on the GIFT WhatsApp groups- has been a source of inspiration and hope to so many people. We have entered into 2021 under a cloud of uncertainty, but there is one thing we do know…That GIFT will be there to inspire the community, whilst supporting the community.