North Chicago launches Veteran’s Benefit Fair  

By Karie Angell Luc  For Chronicle Media

North Chicago 4th Ward Alderman Bobby Allen (left) greets incoming visitors at the North Shore Veteran’s Benefits Fair. (Photo by Karie Angell Luc/for Chronicle Media)

The North Shore Veteran’s Benefit Fair in North Chicago on May 16 attracted a regular stream of 75 attendees.

Veterans could stop at 20 community tables sponsored by Lake County organizations and partners. 

The city of North Chicago organized the fair. The Thursday event was free and ran for four hours at the Paris Banquet Hall.

“This event was made possible through the generosity of sponsorship and community partnership,” North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Jr. said. “Developing a destination that showcases valuable benefits for our nation’s heroes was the ultimate goal.” 

Naval Station Great Lakes is among the anchors in Lake County. The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center also welcomes veterans who find care in North Chicago.

Gregory Jackson, chief of staff for the Office of the Mayor for North Chicago, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1978-83.  

“Veterans are in our DNA,” Jackson said. “The city of North Chicago is extremely excited to open its doors and invite service providers in to offer veterans resources that they either may not be aware of or may not have access to where they’re currently at.” 

Several homeless veterans who are staying at the Lovell location attended the fair.

“We need to serve those who have served,” Jackson said. 

John Passanante, president of Lake County Honor Flight, which serves veterans who served from 1941-75, staffed a table to reach out to veterans who might be interested in taking the complimentary three-day Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. 

“I appreciate North Chicago,” Passanante said, for launching the fair. “It’s our opportunity to tell the community. 

“We’re here to take them on this tribute trip to thank them for their service,” Passanante said. 

The Midwest Veterans Closet of North Chicago, a 501c3 organization, had a table filled with snacks. Veterans, active-duty military and dependents can shop for free at the Green Bay Road closet, obtaining items such as clothing and household needs, said Midwest Veterans Closet President Mary Carmody of Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, who founded the closet one decade ago. 

“We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this year (in June),” Carmody said. 

A new permanent North Chicago location is being built on the 1700 block of Green Bay Road.  

“It is an honor to be caring for our veterans,” Carmody said. “They provide for my and my family’s freedoms as well as everyone else. 

“I think I can speak for everyone when I say thank you for providing for our freedoms.” 

Bobby Allen, North Chicago 4th Ward alderman, said about veterans, “It’s important to support these people. 

“Who are you going to support if you don’t support your veterans?” 

Veterans Gerald Gaston, Epi Rodriguez, Lenard Stewart, Henry Martin and Dennis Hirth all participated, 

Hirth, who served in the United States Air Force from 1985 to 2005, said of the fair, “It’s a nice opportunity to meet other veterans.” 

Stewart served in the United States Army from 1979-83 and said the fair offers, “a lot of opportunities here.” 

While checking out the resource tables, Martin, who served in the United States Army from 1989-93 said, “There are a lot of people who love us and care about us.” 

Gaston, who served in the United States Navy from 1985-87, was at the fair partly for fellowship. 

“I love meeting people,” Gaston said. 

Rodriguez served in the United States Marine Corps from 1977-84. 

“It’s a good thing that they’re out here for the veterans,” Rodriquez said, acknowledging fair organizers. 

“There’s not a lot of people that do this for the veterans.” 

Gregory Jackson said, “We need to turn around and honor those who’ve made sacrifices. 

“Some, … made the ultimate sacrifice. 

“When somebody puts on a uniform, takes the oath of office,” Jackson said, “… there’s no greater calling than to your country. 

“And for those people who have accepted that challenge, we owe them a debt that will probably never ever be repaid.”