GIFT’s Founding Director, Michelle Barnett, was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List this week for extraordinary efforts made by individuals and charities during the pandemic. Michelle, who started the charity from her kitchen 18 years ago, explained, “I am thrilled to have received such an incredible honour.  This is a real acknowledgment of the vital work we are privileged to do in the community. I dedicate this award to GIFT’s co-founder & visionary R. Naftali Schiff; to our inspiring MD R. Sandor Milun; our awesome team and volunteers who have given of themselves so selflessly - especially this year; and my wonderful family who have so generously shared me for the past 18 years with my passion for GIFT.”

GIFT’s mission is to develop a giving mindset and lifestyle through education and volunteering. GIFT's vision is a world transformed from 'me' to 'we', in which all are engaged with and empowered by the GIFT of giving. GIFT,  has become the go-to for giving as it inspires giving, whilst supporting those in need. In keeping with GIFT’s mission to shift attitudes and behaviours toward giving, in March 2020, when the pandemic hit, GIFT immediately created a number of lock-down ‘giving’ initiatives that could be worked on safely within people’s homes, including making gratitude packages for the NHS/ paramedics/Hatzola, telephone befriending, making isolation packs for the elderly and a virtual tutoring & mentoring programme for young people struggling with the lock-down. GIFT volunteers became the first responders, ready and assembled to do whatever was needed to ensure the community would be supported in a plethora of different ways. GIFT was also called on during the pandemic from JAMI, Jewish Care, Norwood, JWA and United Synagogue Project Chessed to provide volunteers to support service users in need in the community.

GIFT’s impact during Covid included giving out over £450,000 worth of food packages and 15,300+ ready-to-go meals for the most needy and vulnerable; providing hundreds of hot lunches for children on free lunch programme in schools across London. GIFT took an increase of 35% in new referrals and is now supporting over 375+ households with packages and practical support. During the pandemic GIFT also received over £79,000 worth of toys, bikes and laptops, which GIFT volunteers fixed up, repaired and distributed. Over 7,000 requests for help in essential shopping, deliveries or picking up prescriptions for those unwell and isolating were responded to. GIFT also partnered with Barnet Hospital Trust and NHSOS to distribute 6,000 NHS packages, including over 50,000 items to NHS staff and care homes. Countless befriending phone calls and safe visits to the elderly and vulnerable were arranged; and over 12,650 personalised cards were written to the elderly in care homes. GIFT created a free virtual tutoring club online, with over 550 pairs, pairing students from year 11-university who are available to tutor in a range of different subjects and the charity also delivered over 850 educational sessions to schools, synagogues and youth groups and had over 7800 unique participants in school and university programmes and initiatives.

Michelle is a true example of the values and ideals that GIFT aspires to.

Working with Michelle has been a life-changing and career defining time for me. It is truly a privilege to work alongside someone who is so selfless, who cares so much for everyone, and who gets things done and that the time of day is just not a concern.” Rabbi Sandor Milun, GIFT Managing Director.

Having been educated at Haberdashers Michelle took a gap year to study at Brovender’s Seminary in Jerusalem before gaining an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Manchester, an MA in Social Work from Brunel University and an MA in Psychotherapy and Counselling from Regents College. Shocked by the volume of wasted food in supermarkets and restaurants and inspired by R’Naftali Schiff’s vision, GIFT started from Michelle’s kitchen table in 2004, gathering excess bread from bakeries each week and redistributing it to struggling families whilst continuing her work as a probation officer. However, very soon it became apparent that her passion for giving and her need to inspire others, were too strong and Michelle became GIFT’s very first employee. 18 years later that passion has created an organisation that has left an indelible mark on the Jewish community and the name Michelle Barnett is synonymous with giving. The opportunities and acts of giving that GIFT has created now rank in their hundreds of thousands. Many hundreds of families have benefited from the thousands of hours that GIFT’s army of volunteers have given, supporting them in numerous important ways. In her personal life, Michelle’s husband Danny has supported her in dedicating much of her married life to GIFT whilst also successfully raised their 3 talented children, all who are deeply imbued with a sense of giving, making Michelle the embodiment of the phrase - To Live is to Give.

Subscribe to our newsletter

"It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do"
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility