Customers of the in West Hartford Center would be surprised if they got a peek at the basement. Not only is it a huge space, but it’s typically overflowing — and not only with frames or artwork.
This is where co-owner Lori Chozick stores bags and bags of clothes, furniture, appliances, school supplies and food — all donated through word of mouth by customers, vendors, family, friends, and many strangers — to help those less fortunate.
When Chozick hears of someone in need, she is off and running at full speed. Through her vast network of friends, she heard stories about the children at the M.D. Fox Elementary School in Harford, most of whom are in dire need of clothing, food and basic supplies. In no time, she was on the case, and soon her basement was full of donations.
“Whenever she reads about people in need, her heart goes out to them and she does everything she can to help,” says artist Tina McDowell, whose work is featured in the store’s gallery.
But Chozick refuses to take all the credit. She recounts stories of the generosity of those who answered her call to help the M.D. Fox students.
McDowell is among those willing to help. Her paintings are often featured in the window at Chozick’s framing shop/art gallery. McDowell agreed to match a portion of her sales with Chozick’s profits and together they donated to M.D. Fox.
“One woman took her Christmas bonus last year and bought out the sweatshirts at Bob’s,” Chozick recalls. “Another woman brought in whatever she found on sale at Staples.” An anonymous donor left five bags of food on the Chozicks' front steps. A social worker came for the food and put it in the students’ backpacks, many of which had also been donated.
“The school is just five miles from West Hartford Center, but it’s like going to a different planet,” says the soft-spoken Chozick. “There are an amazing number of hungry kids.”
The school is closed this year for renovations, but Chozick is still collecting grocery store gift cards and monetary donations.
One of Chozick’s biggest charitable undertakings was a recent benefit for the Catucci family in West Hartford, who were about to lose their home in a foreclosure. The two Catucci children are disabled and the husband was severely ill.
“When I hear stories like this, I can’t sleep at night,” says Chozick. She organized a huge auction and other fundraisers. She helped raise the money to pay for the property taxes and mortgage. She tells endless stories of how people came from far and wide to help, including students at Avon Middle School who created gift baskets for the auction, donating expensive personal items.
“I think giving back to the community is part of living in a community,” explains the West Hartford native and resident, who co-owns the frame store with her brother Glenn Lazinsk. The daughter of Harvey and Shirley Lazinsk, Chozick grew up in a home “filled with possibilities,” she says. “My family was always just so kind to strangers. .... This is how I grew up.”
“I love helping people; that’s who I am,” Chozick says with a slight shrug. She recalls participating in a walkathon at age 12 and doing the Relay for Life in South Windsor in honor of a close friend who had cancer.
She and husband Aaron Chozick have imparted these lessons to their three children — Matthew, Jackie and Annie. At the moment, Jackie is collecting clothes for impoverished teenagers in Vermont, where she is a special education teacher.
Most of the families Chozick helps are those with whom she has had little direct contact. And those who donate are “random people who’ve become friends,” she adds. “It’s an enormous circle of the kindest people you’ve ever met … people tell people all through word of mouth.”
The House of Bread, which provides food and shelter to the hungry and homeless in Hartford, is another recipient of Chozick’s efforts. In her store, Chozick sells photography by Marc Abrahms of West Hartford, who makes food for clients at the House of Bread.
When Chozick and Abrahms teamed up and held a party, 400 people showed up and 100 percent of the sales of Abrahms’ photographs was donated to the House of Bread. But Chozick still isn’t satisfied. She leaves a small envelope near Abrahms’ photos. If a customer can’t afford to buy a photograph, she says, perhaps they will open their wallet and leave a donation.
Chozick is a “23 on a scale of 1 to 10 for how much she does to make the world a better place for so many people,” said Abrahms before the House of Bread benefit.
Going to work and having strangers stop by with their donations is a “daily lift,” she says. “There is so much goodness out there, and when you give from your heart you feel so much better.”
In recognition of Lori Chozick's contributions, she has been chosen by Patch and the Huffington Post to receive today's honor as Greatest Person of the Day. The story will appear live on the Huffington Post on Monday afternoon.
For more information on how to help M.D. Fox School, contact Lori Chozick at Center Framing & Art, 56 Lasalle Road, West Hartford, or call (860) 233-7804.