“We need to connect more as a human race,” said John Sharpe, Westchester Arts & Music coordinator, as he bounced around between volunteers and vendors. “If we are going to survive we need some sense of community. This is my way of contributing to something that is extremely valuable for us. Just having a day of fun with all the neighbors.”
The Westchester neighborhood surrounding LMU had its 8th annual WAM festival this Saturday. WAM is a block party that takes over 80th and Emerson Ave. From 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., an expected 7,000 people flooded the streets to try local food trucks, shop at vendor tents, and listen to the echoing sounds of music. As kids ran around the community garden, their parents sipped at the beer & wine gardens. Even LMU students and alumni stopped by to see what all the noise was about.
A team of 60 volunteers came together to organize this year’s WAM celebration with Westchester local, Sharpe. The idea for WAM originated from Sharpe’s passion for art and the community. WAM runs fully on donations from generous sponsors. It considers Loyola Marymount a premium plus sponsor, with help from KXLU 88.9 on-air service announcements.
The proceeds from this year’s WAM festival go to the Westchester Family YMCA. Earlier this year, WAM was voted “Best Community Event and Best Charity/Fundraiser Event” by The Hometown News annual poll. Because of its growing popularity, Sharpe expects to make more than their donation amount from last year: $35,000. “The biggest payback is seeing everybody here having a great time,” said Sharpe, “and making money for a good cause.”
Not only did WAM grow in popularity, it also grew in size. Sharpe allowed for 80 vendor tents, making 10 more than last year’s amount. The vendors themselves enjoy a community of their own, “We look out for each other,” said Alicia de Soto, a jewelry curator of 16 years. “We might sell to each other, or share information and opportunities to sell. That’s how I found out about this!”
Soto has officially participated in her 4th WAM festival. Some of her favorite travel destinations, the Southwest, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Peru, are primary sources of her jewelry and art collection. Some are found, some are gifted, and some are bought. What makes her shop so unique is how she “Try[s] really hard to make sure everything has a story. People like it better, you know, when there is a story behind it,” said Soto.
Having been in the vending community for many years, Soto has adopted her own vending traditions. For example, “When someone buys something I always take their picture and post it on my Instagram. I like to remember each new home,” Soto explained. However, for other vendors, WAM was their first showcase.
Kelsey Branstetter is the owner and baker for Sugar Kane’s Bake Shop. Branstetter had never run a vending tent until this Saturday at WAM. She usually sells her vintage style cakes and desserts out of her own home on 86th Place. By 3pm, Branstetter was already sold out of many items.
Each booth had an outreach goal. Whether it be a vendor, a non-profit looking to build awareness, or the LMU community relations booth. Fred Puza’s goal while representing the LMU booth was to open a space to “Have conversations with anyone…prospective students, current students, alums, neighbors, or the youth.” Puza gave out free LMU frisbees, bubbles, pop-sockets, and answers.
“It’s not about things working smoothly, because they never do, it’s about problem solving and making sure everyone is having a good time,” said Sharpe. Even just showing up with a smile meant being a part of WAM.
All the moving parts and behind the scenes of WAM came together to make a wonderful day of community celebration. “This is my child,” Sharpe laughed. “I feel like I’ve been in labor for months.”