By Jack Quach
Sunset Youth Services hosted the 26th annual Sunset Community Festival on Oct. 2 on 37th Avenue, between Ortega and Pacheco streets. It was a welcome return to the in-person event after a two-year gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On a sunny, picture-perfect day, vendors, community members and youth from throughout the Sunset and San Francisco gathered to celebrate the Sunset District.
Neighbors enjoyed activities ranging from an inflatable slide for kids and large bubbles that children ran after to picnic tables in the cool shade of Sunset Boulevard’s tree canopy. Vendors – many searching for in-person connections after the experiences of the pandemic shutdown – lined the community fair and offered meals, baked goods and creative art pieces.
Boasting a Giants cap decorated with Lego bricks and mini-figures, San Francisco native Nick Lau brought the creations of his small business, Outbound Bricks, into the sun. Catching sight of the pieces that celebrate the local San Francisco sports teams lining the booth’s table, children and parents led each other by the hand to browse Lau’s shop.
“I love to see people with smiles on their faces,” Lau said.
Within the last few months, Lau had begun using his enthusiasm for Legos and brick toys to build his small business and share it with the neighbors in the Sunset District. During the pandemic, he experienced the immense strain of the crisis, as a health researcher in the VA Hospital and Stanford Children’s Hospital.
“Honestly, it burned me out,” he said, describing the long hours that grew more tiring as the pandemic wore on.
While he takes a break from the health field to focus more of his time on building his business, Lau continues to find inspiration from his patients.
“One thing that I can always connect with my kid patients on is Legos and sports,” Lau said. “Almost universally, everybody loves sports games or playing with Lego bricks.”
Hailey Lindsay began her art business during the pandemic. After she found inspiration to create and sell her paintings during quarantine, she took to social media. At one of her first experiences of in-person business, Lindsay said she enjoyed the exciting new atmosphere of the Sunset Community Festival.
Along with small businesses from the Sunset, the festival also welcomed nonprofit and community programs. Sunset Forward – a plan aimed toward areas such as supporting small businesses and housing – looked to engage in conversations with festival attendants to guide its outreach.
Its goal “is about what are some things we could do as a city to meet people’s needs,” project manager Paolo Ikezoe said. At the booth, posters with information and graphics displayed the vision of Sunset Forward to include the voices of Sunset community members.
Wandering through the lines of local vendors, Abraham Wallind and his family of four held sugar cane drinks to cool off.
“The more we get back to being normal and being out-and-about, the nicer it feels,” Wallind said.
Nicole Wong, a teacher at Garfield Elementary School in San Francisco, shared similar sentiments about feeling a sense of relief and connectedness with the access to in-person events. Wong said after the quarantine experience, outdoor and lively areas such as the festival provided more normalcy to her as a parent.
A central platform stood at the southern end of the block-long festival. On it, performances including youth dancers and cultural presentations and dances took the stage. Community leaders and those who organized the festival also gave speeches to the attendees. San Francisco District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar was a speaker who also played a role in helping the festival take shape.
Sunset Youth Services worked closely with Mar to host the festival. Mar set his focus on supporting small businesses and working with community leaders during the pandemic, including the farmers markets normally held during the weekends in the same section of 37th Avenue as the Oct. 2 festival.
“The area has really transformed into a really unique community space in the Sunset District to bring the community together,” Mar said. “The emphasis is on supporting our neighborhood businesses and allowing them the opportunity to reach the neighborhood in a new way.”
Mar added that new businesses starting up – even during the age of social distancing – displayed the entrepreneurial spirit he hopes to support.
In July, Mar also sponsored legislation for the Board of Supervisors to establish the Sunset Chinese District as a cultural district, which was represented through musical performances on the festival’s main stage.
Even as the event reached its 4 p.m. closing time, a full block of crowds continued to linger, according to Dawn Stueckle, co-founder and executive director of Sunset Youth Services. For Stueckle, who held concerns about the Sunset Community Festival’s future after COVID-19 forced a cancellation in 2020, the approval and encouragement from the community inspired the success of this year’s edition as well as the festival’s continuation.
“The festival is one way for us to reach out beyond our typical areas to build relationships and extend community,” Stueckle said, adding that she hopes to extend the 2022 festival to 5 p.m.
“The day felt celebratory and vibrant from beginning to end,” she said. “It was like reuniting with an old friend.”
Special thanks to:
Kevin Kelleher & Emily Trinh
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Categories: Sunset Community Festival