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Near North Side, River North

Toy Drive In Honor Of Slain Chicago 9-Year-Old Janari Ricks Returns To Help Even More Kids This Year

Janari Ricks, killed outside his Near North Side home last year, always gave to his friends for the holidays. Now, his mother is honoring his giving nature with a toy drive for local kids.

Janari Ricks loved giving back to his friends during the holidays, his mother said.
Provided/Jalisa Ford
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NEAR NORTH SIDE — Janari Ricks loved the holidays and made it a tradition to give back to his community during the winter.

“Janari always wanted to give back to his friends and peers during the holidays,” said his mother, Jalisa Ford. “Each year, we’d pick two kids, maybe from his school or programs that he was in, and we’d a buy a gift for them.”

Credit: Provided/Jalisa Ford
Janari Ricks, 9

Janari, 9, was already getting excited for the holidays when he was fatally shot July 31, 2020, near his Near North Side home, Ford said. In the wake of his murder, Ford decided to keep their family tradition going through a massive toy drive in Janari’s memory, handing out more than 10,000 toys to area children last year.

The toy drive is back this holiday season, with hopes of benefitting even more kids in Chicago. People can drop off new toys — wrapped or unwrapped — at 524 W. Chestnut Ave., through Dec. 17, Ford said. The toys will be given away 1-5 p.m. Dec. 18 at Holy Family Lutheran Church, 524 W. Hobbie St.

The toy drive is organized by the 1 JAR Foundation, a nonprofit Ford founded after Janari’s death to support communities on the Near North Side and across Chicago, Ford said.

The foundation is named after the initials for her son, Janari Andre Ricks.

“This toy drive means a lot to me because it’s not only dedicated in honor of my son, but it gives a chance for less fortunate kids to receive things,” Ford said.

Janari was playing outside near his home in the 900 block of North Cambridge Avenue when a man got out of his car and tried to shoot another man, police said.

The shooter missed his intended target and hit Janari several times before taking off, police said. Police credited neighbors who spoke up about the shooting in helping them arrest and charge a 39-year-old man days later.

“It breaks me down when I talk about this because Janari was such a blessing,” Ford said.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Jalisa Ford stands near the garden memorial for her son, Janari Ricks, who was fatally shot last year at 9 years old.

Ford said Janari was an “old soul” who was very social and generous with other kids.

“Janari was so giving,” Ford said. “If he had $1, he’d try and find a way to split it with two of his friends.”

Since his death, Ford has used the 1 JAR Foundation to give back to the Near North Side in other ways, including a recent Halloween party for kids in the Chicago Lights Urban Farm program.

The program, which Janari was a part of since he was 3, educates kids about urban farming through a partnership with After School Matters. Chicago Lights dedicated a garden in its farm, 444 W. Chicago Ave., to Janari last year.

Ford said it was her “duty and honor” to give back to the community in honor of her son.

“Janari always wanted to make a difference by helping people,” Ford said. “I know he’s smiling down on us to be able to keep supporting the kids in his community.”

More information on the 1 JAR Foundation’s annual toy drive can be found on its website.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
The Nari Garden, dedicated to Janari Ricks, who was fatally shot last year at 9 years old, features his favorite colors, blue and yellow.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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