ENGLEWOOD — After almost three weeks, Delece Williams has unraveled the mystery of who took a train container filled with Christmas presents for South Side kids, teens and families.
She’s retrieved the container, but the gifts are gone, and Williams is leaning on neighbors to help ensure people in need get a holiday gift they deserve.
Williams, founder of Kidz Korna, and Sharon Preston, founder of Flags of the Heart, spent months filling the 53-foot-long container with gifts for kids in need only to have someone steal the unit from an empty lot in Englewood just before Thanksgiving.
Neighbors told Williams they’d seen someone the day before with the “necessary equipment” move the large container, which also had $50,000 worth of coats, shoes, microwaves and gardening tools inside for the 16th annual Adopt Your Block Giveaway.
Neighbors and well wishers who saw the story in local media rallied to help the organizers replace the gifts, but until recently, it remained unclear who made off with the container and why.
Enter Joseph Vaccaro, owner of Vaccaro Trucking.
For over 20 years, Vaccaro Trucking has moved containers across the Midwest, Vaccaro said. Someone calls and asks for their containers to be relocated, and they make it happen. His company moves “anywhere from 50 to 100 containers a week,” he said.
So when a man called and asked to move his train container from the lot in Englewood to Chicago Heights, nearly 30 miles away, Vacarro didn’t see a problem, he said. The man paid Vacarro and his team $625 in cash, he said at a press conference Thursday.
“The gentlemen met us [at the lot], and my driver followed him down to Chicago Heights and dropped the container,” Vacarro said. “He paid us, and we left.”
Then, like many others, he saw the news about the missing gifts.
“I saw the report on the news a few days later that a container was missing,” Vacarro said. “One of my drivers called me on Monday morning and said. ‘Joe, I think I moved their container.'”
Vacarro immediately went to Chicago police, who were investigating the case. Then he began to call the charity agencies he’d seen on the news one by one, he said, eventually reaching Preston.
Spokespeople for Chicago police and Chicago Heights police declined comment.
Vacarro said the unit was filled with gifts when his team initially dropped it off but when Williams got to it, it was ransacked. Most of the presents were gone or thrown across around the Chicago Heights yard.
Williams and the man who paid to have the container removed both went to the police precinct. The man told officers he’d had a container donated to him in 2019 and placed in the community, and produced paperwork saying the container was his, Williams said.
Williams provided her paperwork from CSX Railroad, the company that sold her the unit. The police told the man he had to get his items out of the container — it belonged to Williams.
Williams declined to name the man, and she didn’t know what happened to the missing gifts.
“I was heartbroken when I saw the stuff all around the area where he found it,” Williams said. “I didn’t know how to feel, and then I’m standing there the whole day arguing, going back and forth with the police and [the man] stating that he had the documentation. It was like a tennis match.”
She decided not to press charges, saying the man seemed apologetic and she wanted to focus on the fact people were already supporting her in the giveaway.
“It’s Christmas,” she said. “We’re getting the toys, people are donating and I got the container back, and some of my personal items was still in there,” Williams said. “I guess just having a heart.”
As the Adopt Your Block Giveaway approaches, Williams hopes to once again fill the container with as many toys as possible, she said.
Someone donated over 50 computers for the kids, she said. Someone else donated more than 2,000 books. Vaccaro gave the the organization the $625 he was paid to move the container.
The container is about 50 percent full now, Williams said.
“We have senior citizens, single parents and kids we’re providing for,” Preston said. “We just want to make sure that they have a Christmas.”
Lanette Warbington, whose donations were stolen, said she’s hoping to do more for the teenagers in the community to make their Christmas bigger and brighter.
“It’s about a smile,” Warbington said. “As long as we can put a smile on children’s faces, I’ll have a smile on mine.”
Williams said she’s not worrying about what they don’t have, she said. She’s focusing on what they do.
“I just can’t spend the energy focusing on the negative because we only got a few days left now,” Williams said. “God is replenishing the things that were taken. The goal was to really get these kids toys for Christmas and some gifts for the families. We just want to make sure we have enough to cover our 40 blocks.”
Local businesses are volunteering to help collect new donations for the gift giveaway. Drop-off sites for replacing the stolen gifts are:
- U.S. Bank, 815 W. 63rd St.: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
- Farley’s House Music Store, 1301 E. 87th St.: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday
- Home Run Inn, 60 Mannheim Road: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon – 10 p.m. Saturday, 12 – 9 p.m. Sunday
Coat donations can be taken to three Burlington Coat Factory locations 7 – 12 a.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. Thursday, and 8 – 12 a.m. Friday-Saturday:
- 701 N. Milwaukee Ave.
- 590 W. Golf Road
- 1300 N. Larkin Ave.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: