“Why do I smile? I smile because God is good. I smile because I woke up this morning. I smile because I’m thankful for the chance to make someone’s day better.”

“Man was never meant to live alone. Every day there’s another goal. I believe you can’t die until you accomplish God’s goal. So, you can live in misery or you can do it with a smile.”

“We’re all here for a limited time. So I always want to present myself to other people with a smile. Everyone has something going on, but that one smile, that one conversation could be the one that changes them for the better.”

“I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago: Roseland, Englewood and Chicago. At 16, I joined the Army and served for 11 years, which was some of the greatest times of my life. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of it. I decided not to pursue a career in the military to come home and be closer with family.”

“Over the years, job loss, broken relationships and medical issues lead to two bouts of homelessness. I was homeless for about six years in the late ’90s, early 2000s. With the help of some friends, I was able to get back on my feet, yet a difficult medical diagnosis led to a deep bout of depression, self-isolation and pride.”

“Those choices led to homelessness again from 2014-2017. I stayed right around the corner from here. But during that whole time, I never stopped smiling. People were drawn to talking to me because I was always smiling and in a good mood. I made good friends during that time including Bill. We would grab lunch, grab coffee. We still do. Bill has really been a true friend over the years.”

“There was another man, Ernest, who was selling fruit. One day he invited me to join him and showed me how it all works. My friend Judy encouraged me that I was capable of running my own business, so I took all I learned and started my own fruit stand.”

“Homelessness for me was a challenge: would I give in and give up or give in and move forward. Judy encouraged me that I could be self-sufficient. Bill and other friends provided me the opportunity to do so. ”

“I love pretty fruit, and I’m selective when I go select fruit. I don’t have a big operation, so I’m able to actually go into the market and pick the best pieces. I’m most proud of my bananas. They are always beautiful in yellow. Other people might get some bad bananas and put them out here, but they probably wouldn’t make a single sale. So I pride myself on the quality of the produce. If I don’t like it, I’m not going buy it or display it.”

“Once the pandemic hit, people stopped coming to the Loop so I lost the business. This was a very difficult past year. I suffered a home invasion, so I had to start over again. I am very grateful for the different organizations in the city which helped me to bridge the gap in this difficult time.”

“Once the Loop started opening up again, some good friends were kind enough to help me restart the fruit stand.”

“Why sell fruit in the Loop? This work doesn’t bring in big bucks but I do it to serve those around me and to provide independence and sustainability. This fruit stand provided the income for me to get off the streets. But this is not work. I love what I’m doing, so I don’t consider this ‘work.’ This, for me, is communication.”

“I love bringing a smile to people’s faces and getting to provide a useful service for them. Who doesn’t want the fresh fruit? Many people rush out of the house, and don’t have breakfast. I’m here on the way to work, so they don’t have time to stop in the store. This is quick. And a lot of my clients are people here that try to live healthy, so there is a good market for fruit in this area. There are many people here that value the product as opposed to in other areas of the city.”

“I just started coming back out a couple weeks ago. Rain or shine, hot or cold, I’m out here. My customers tell me they’re so glad I’m back. My presence brings a sense of normalcy back.”

“Before the pandemic, I would work with local offices to provide breakfasts in large quantities to their employees. I’m really hoping to reestablish some of my corporate contracts, to provide fresh fruit and oatmeal to teams in the Loop. And when my business is a bit more established, I’d love to work to give back to the community.”

“A lot of people are hungry and homeless in Chicago every day. I’ll give out fruit after my shift to people I pass by, old neighbors and friends from my time on the streets, if I know it won’t stay fresh for customers the next day. I try to do as much as I can without putting myself in the hole, but I want to do more.”

“There have been so many stumbling blocks, hurdles and many misunderstandings through the process. After everything I’ve been through, I choose to smile and live happy every day because of the lessons I’ve been through. I continue to smile because I miss the people, the warm feeling and warm conversations.”

“You can’t help but be happy that you have another chance to help people.”

Steven Blake
Fruit salesman
Chicago, Illinois