Try to ask Canton resident Chris Napierski, 33, about herself and you’ll find her nearly speechless.
She’s that modest.
But ask her about what her team at is doing to and the words pour out.
“I really liked Gifts of Love mission was and who they were trying to help,” Napierski, part-time volunteer and outreach coordinator at the Avon non-profit, said of why she was drawn to volunteering with Gifts of Love when she started in 2004.
She almost instantly was assigned to organize the silent auction for the non-profit’s largest fundraiser, which transformed from the Lady’s Luncheon Fashion Show to Night Out in Style, an evening couples event to raise money for Gifts of Love programming.
“She can just step into a project that’s already going on,” Diana Goode, executive director at Gifts of Love said. “She’s really good at making things happen….”
Goode hired Napierski as a part-time volunteer and outreach coordinator in 2006 and then again after she left the job to have her third child, Colin, who is now almost 3.
In fact, her sons, Colin, Carson, 9, and Cole, 15, are part of the reason Napierski started volunteering – because she wanted to get involved in the community and meet people. She helped out at Canton Community Nursery School when her kids were there until she started at Gifts of Love, whether sweeping the parking lot or updating the playground. Volunteering fit well with her family schedule, she said, which is why she finds Gifts of Love to be a niche for parents.
“An hour of time can make a big difference,” Napierski said.
Before Napierski was at Gifts of Love, she volunteered at the Plainville ARC (PARC) in her hometown, helping to provide a “social outlet” for special needs individuals ranging from school children to 70-year-olds. She was there from 1999 until 2004.
She facilitated arts and craft sessions with PARC clients, such as making wooden clocks for them to paint and sell at local craft fairs.
“It was being creative with them and seeing what their skill sets were so we could best use those, so they could be productive, as well,” Napierski said.
She was later hired as a staff member and worked at PARC's summer camp for special needs individuals from children to 21-year-olds who may not have been able to go to a camp otherwise. She did everything from cooking with the campers and leading outdoor games to supervising field trips.
Her approach to interacting with PARC clients was not much different than in her current line of work.
“I think I just treated those people the same way I’d treat anyone else,” Napierski said.
And that kind of no-judgment attitude carried over to Gift of Love, which she said is an appealing characteristic of the organization itself. When clients approach Gifts of Love for some help, Napierski said the organization does not ask a lot of questions or demand to see their bills.
“Chris certainly understands and respects that a lot,” Goode said, “but she always has.”
The only requirement is that the client is working – whether it’s a recently divorced mother or a family with one parent who just lost a job. Clients have monthly appointments leave with basic necessities like household items, clothes or groceries from the Gifts of Love food pantry, or gifts for family members in the organizations yearly , all free of charge.
“I couldn’t imagine going to sleep wondering how I’m going to come up with holiday gifts for the kids,” Napierski said. “Once they’re here, they feel a weight lifted off their shoulders.”
Most of the items are donated and Napierski said there were more "in-kind donations" this year than she's ever seen.
“I see when our clients come in for the first time and they’ve never needed help before and the anxiety and the concern on their face," Napierski said. "And then when they come and realize that there’s no judgement here and we’re here to help them, and they leave with six bags of groceries, a bag of clothes, a winter coat, household items, for whatever reason; maybe they’re starting over and she didn’t have dishes before. And now mom has a set of dishes to feed her children on. So, you can just see immediately the difference."
"It’s exciting and gratifying knowing you’ve helped that family immediately,” she added.
She calls that rush selfish of her to feel, but when it comes to the work she does, it’s not for self-gratification. She said it’s a need.
In addition to being a point person for volunteers and the "Volunteens" from area schools, she runs volunteer training sessions. She is also frequently out in the community spreading word of the nonprofit’s cause to local businesses, schools, Girl and Boy Scouts and other organizations, who often collaborate with Gifts of Love on projects, drives and fundraisers. Many people want to help others, Napierski said, but don’t always know how to start.
“I feel like Gifts of Love is sometimes an instrument,” Napierski said.
One project Napierski facilitates in collaboration with 22 public schools in Avon, Canton, Farmington, Simsbury and West Hartford is the , which provides food and drinks for 94 public school students on Free and Reduced Lunch before every weekend. She has gone from stuffing and delivering the bags with Goode when the program launched five years ago to overseeing volunteers that now do those tasks.
And, having kids of her own, Napierski can empathize with the challenge of balancing work and putting food on the table one's family and kids.
She said she is amazed at the single moms Gifts of Love serves that have three to four kids and a full-time job. That makes her even more grateful for her husband, Brendan, who is an operations manager for Aiudi and Sons Concrete in Plainville.
“Thank God he is there help me,” Napierski said. “I can’t imagine how hard that would be…. If one of us lost our jobs, how would we make that work?”
As much as she loves her job, Napierski said she hopes that the amount of families in need will decrease.
“I would like us to not be around,” Napierski said. “I would like for every family to be able to support themselves…. But since that’s not going to happen, we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
If you are interested in volunteering at Gifts of Love, you can contact Chris Napierski on the non-profit's main line, 860-676-2323. Individuals looking to become clients can ask for Denise Phillips. More information is available on the Gifts of Love website, giftsoflovect.org.