By Jack Quach
Each year since 1995, an annual community festival has offered a day of local shopping, outdoor activities and a chance for Sunset residents to connect with their neighbors. In 2020, the streets were instead left empty as the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the city and nation.
On Oct. 2, the Sunset Community Festival will mark its in-person return as the event once again invites local community members, families and vendors to celebrate the Sunset District.
Dawn Stueckle is a co-founder and the executive director of Sunset Youth Services, which hosts the yearly tradition. She said the atmosphere around bringing the Sunset community together for the 2021 rendition of the festival “really feels like a gift.”
This year’s event – which will be held on 37th Avenue between Ortega and Pachecho streets – will offer areas for eating and entertainment, information about community nonprofits, and browsing through the booths of small businesses. Sunset Mercantile sets up its weekly farmers markets in this venue and has partnered with Sunset Youth Services to represent the diversity of the Sunset District’s merchants and artists.
In the air of a weekend morning, parents can also bring children to spaces including a reptile petting zoo (which Stueckle said parents have been just as eager to join in on), and the Golden Gate Vehicle Association will have electric vehicles to observe.
After 2020’s hiatus, Stueckle said that she considered the decades-long tradition could be coming to a close. However, encouragement to continue arose from the “overwhelming” positive response from the community about the unique value of the Sunset Community Festival. Community members shared that the event fulfilled the needs of the neighborhood.
“We’ve been really surprised and heartened by the desire of people to be involved,” Stueckle said.
For Stueckle, the return to the in-person festivals offers an opportunity for connection among an ethnically diverse neighborhood of San Francisco, especially considering the events of the past year.
“Our goal was always a message of unity and hope,” she said, pointing to violence and hate crimes against minority groups such as Asian and Black Americans that occurred nationally and escalated during the pandemic.
The director said that the scenes of neighbors greeting each other, shopping from local vendors, and enjoying the space represented a way to display the hope for a better future as a community.
“We stand together because we’re better together,” Stueckle said. “And we’re not going to allow violence to degenerate part of our communities. So we’re not going to stay quiet.”
Planning for the community festival, Sunset Mercantile co-founder Angie Pettit-Taylor designed the curation of vendors to represent the diversity of the Sunset neighborhood. Pettit-Taylor used her familiarity with small businesses to invite those needing support from the community. One such business included Underdogs Too, a Mexican restaurant that experienced a fire at the end of 2020.
The upcoming festival will “give a lot of small businesses the opportunity to reconnect person-to-person with the community in the safest of possible ways,” Pettit-Taylor said. She began working with Stueckle in 2016.
In planning for the Sunset Community Festival, the Sunset Mercantile director looks forward to enjoying the sights of a “beautiful tradition” continuing. She said the events, such as the festival and her farmers market, can also inspire the growth of businesses throughout the neighborhood.
Sunset Youth Services works with youth and their families to support their development. Education programs, such as those focusing on justice services, family support, and technology training, comprise some of the core areas of the organization.
“Our goal first and foremost is to build relationships that help everybody feel loved and cared about and supported, and to create a place where everybody can belong,” Stueckle said.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the City, these programs could not operate in the same capacity. Still, according to Stueckle, Sunset Youth Services delivered thousands of meals to the youth in their programs and their families. Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, many groups faced serious crises. Several of Sunset Youth Service’s previous programs connected with youth virtually.
Now, with the upcoming Sunset Community Festival, Stueckle said she is reminded that “life is precious. It’s an important thing for us to celebrate it and not take it for granted.” She also thanked the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as members such as District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar “played key roles” in restarting the annual keystone event.
Stueckle is focused on creating a lasting influence on the Sunset community as she looks toward the festival on Oct. 2.
“I am hopeful that each year we do a good job of representing the diversity of a neighborhood that is often overlooked in San Francisco,” Stueckle said, “and to really celebrate local merchants and makers and community.”
Categories: Sunset Community Festival