For nearly a year, Delece Williams’ organization, Kidz Korna, has been collecting donations of toys, clothes and electronics.
Williams and Sharon Preston, founder of Flags of the Heart, planned to hand out those items at Christmastime to families in a roughly 40-block area they had “adopted.”
“We have a lot of senior citizens that’s dependent on us to help them with the grandkids as well as single parents,” Preston said at a press conference Monday. “Everybody knows that COVID hit, and it’s trying times right now. We need to step up and support the people that we can.”
But now it’s Williams and Preston who could use a little support — in finding, or maybe replacing, those donations.
Sometime over the weekend, the 53-foot-long shipping container they’d been storing their bounty in was stolen from a lot in Englewood.
Williams discovered the theft about 1 p.m. Saturday when she arrived to drop off more items. Two containers were there. The one with the gifts was not.
She was in shock.
“I thought that at first someone may have taken it by mistake,” she said of the missing white container, which has a serial number of UMXU 630361.
That container, donated by CSX Transportation, as well as two others belonging to Kidz Korna, had been at a lot in the 6500 block of Parnell Avenue. One of the remaining shipping containers was filled with Kidz Korna’s office supplies; the other held old tires.
She called the railroad; CSX told her they hadn’t authorized the removal (the lot is near some railroad tracks).
Then she knocked on some neighbors’ doors, asking if anyone had seen anything.
“One of the neighbors said a tow truck was here on Friday,” Williams said. “They sat out here for about an hour, and then they just towed it away.”
Normally, Williams added, neighbors would have told the truck driver the container was there by permission. But because the thief had the tools to lift such a large item, neighbors thought Williams or another member of Kidz Korna knew it was being moved.
The container was about 80% filled — with toys, new clothing and shoes, personal heaters, more than 10,000 pieces of custom jewelry, blankets, electronics, school supplies and more. Williams estimated the donations were worth $50,000.
“CSX is saddened to learn that a storage container donated to the Kids Korner Foundation has gone missing,” said Cindy Schild, a company spokeswoman. “We are disappointed that someone would take toys intended for needy families in our community. We hope that the stolen property will be recovered and are supporting local law enforcement as they investigate.”
Williams founded Kidz Korna in 1994; Her goal was to minimize violence and abuse in the community through partnerships with media, the Chicago Police Department and community organizations.
This year, Kidz Korna partnered with Flags of the Heart for its 16th Annual Winter Wonderland Giveaway Driveby & Tour.
“We took money out of our pockets at the end of Christmas [last year] because they mark the toys down, the coats down, and we went to purchase a lot of stuff,” Preston said. “Just for it to be gone, that we cannot provide for the kids the way we like to, help the senior citizens … it’s just a hurting feeling.”
Williams said she received a call Monday morning that CPD detectives may have a lead. But the detective was not available Monday, and a call to the Chicago police seeking details on the investigation was not returned.
Saturday’s theft wasn’t the first time Kidz Korna had been targeted.
A few weeks ago, the container holding its office supplies was mistakenly removed. Then, shortly before the gifts were stolen, Williams and her team found the lock on the container door had been cut off and replaced. (They cut that new lock off and put one of theirs back on again.)
Monday, Williams said this should be a warning for other community organizations.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about the car thefts and the carjackings,” said Williams. “Now we have to be very mindful of the containers being stolen. A lot of you know businesses have downsized or closed down, and they get those temporary containers. They put them on the sidewalks ... and they’re unprotected. You would think that they’re safe. That’s what I thought.”
Preston said the community partners also will “adopt” five families on Christmas Eve.
“We’re going to feed them, give them toys, give them gift cards and everything we can,” Preston said.
And they will work harder than ever for the main giveaway to go on.
Money can be donated through CashApp$ to KidzKorna or at the Kidz Korna main office, 7901 S. Ashland Ave.
Donations also can be dropped off at:
• U.S. Bank, 815 W. 63rd St., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday,
• Farley’s House Music Store, 1301 E. 87th St., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.