Members of the Proviso West Marching Band perform during the 2014 Health and Awareness Fair and Parade, held outside of Miracle Revival Center in Maywood. The event often features free medical services, below, among other resources. This year’s fair and parade, the 11th one, could also be the last for its founder and organizer, Bonnie Stegall. | File
Bonnie Stegall, 73, the inspiration and organizer behind a Homeless Awareness Fair and Parade that takes place each year on the grounds of Miracle Revival Center, 2010 S. St. Charles Rd., in Maywood, said this year’s event could be her last.
During a recent interview, Stegall reflected on the reason she first hatched the idea for the annual gathering. She said the motivation came while she was on her way to church one Sunday roughly a decade ago.
“I saw this homeless lady sitting on the bench at 25th and St. Charles and she was full of feces,” said Stegall. “She was maybe in her late 40s, early 50s. She looked like she had lost her mind and it didn’t appear that anyone was looking after her.”
Stegall said that same morning, she came across another unfortunate sighting. This time of a little girl who appeared to be no more than 5 years old. Stegall said she followed the girl in her car for some time before the child walked into a nearby barbershop. In the same area and around the same time, the dedicated churchgoer said, she also witnessed a woman who appeared to be a teenager standing on the corner prostituting.
The sequence of unfortunate sightings compelled Stegall to approach her pastor at the time, Bishop Willie J. Chambliss, with an urgent appeal.
“I went into the bishop’s office and told him our people need help,” she recalled, adding that, with her pastor’s consultation, the idea to put on the free event was formed. Stegall said the event is designed to bring particular awareness to homeless veterans.
Over the years, the annual event has featured free HIV testing, book bags, school supplies, entertainment, food and a variety of other resources to thousands of community members. Stegall said the annual event is privately funded, with much of the cost paid from her and her fellow organizers’ own pockets. The returns, she said, aren’t monetary but spiritual.
“Last year, one lady came with a baby stroller and was pregnant with another child,” Stegall said. “She wanted to be tested for HIV. A lot of people, if you show that you genuinely want to help them, they’ll come out to get helped. Our people need help.”
A decade later, Stegall said, she’s planning what could be the biggest event of them all.
This year’s event, the 11th annual, will feature the usual parade and various vendors, including a local Mexican restaurant, in addition to free medical and dental services. Stegall said she’s especially excited to have landed both Proviso East and West marching bands, the popular South Shore marching band and an appearance by Buffalo Soldiers, complete with stagecoaches.
“We usually get over 1,000 people to come,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without Dr. Greg Gaither, who helps me plan this, Bishop Chambliss and our current leader, Pastor DeAndre Patterson.”
When asked why this might be the last year for the event, Stegall said simply, “I‘m 73 years old.” But she didn’t rule out perhaps doing it again next year.
“My daughters always tell me, ‘Mom, every year you say it will be your last for organizing this.’ So who knows?”
This year’s fair and parade will take place on Aug. 20, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., outside of Miracle Revival Center, 2010 S. St. Charles Rd. The parade is from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. VFP