SOUTH PORTLAND — Organizers are already looking forward to next year after what started as a plan for a small get-together to promote neighborhood unity morphed into a street-closing, music-making block party in Willard Square.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better day,” said Wynne Wirth, lead organizer for the event. “The response from the community has been great.”
Organizers estimated that about 400 people attended the four-hour event on Saturday, July 16, at the intersection of Pillsbury, Preble and Thompson streets. They listened to musicians and storytellers, and ate food and drink provided by Scratch Baking Co., Bathras Market and Willard Scoops.
South Portland Fire Department brought out Engine No. 8 and the ladder truck, where children were allowed to sit in the front and play firefighter. Police Department volunteers distributed information and “Cop Collectibles,” trading cards each with pictures and information about one of the city’s officers.
There also were children’s activities, including a parade to kick off the festival.
But the centerpiece of the event was Sharon Herrick’s “Wishing Wall,” an art installation where festival-goers were invited to write their hopes and dreams on thin pieces of fabric and pinned them along a corridor of string.
Herrick, also one of the festival’s organizers, said she plans eventually to sew all the wish flags into a panel kite.
Wishes ranged from a child’s “I wish the tooth fairy would come,” to the prayer-like “May community spirit prevail!” One out-of-towner wrote “I wish to move to Willard.”
Herrick said one of the goals for next year is to find more activities to attract the 20-to-30-something crowd.
“We need people who are in their 20s and 30s on the committee,” Herrick said. “We don’t intend to request permission to serve alcohol or anything, but we need something that’s a draw for that age group.”
Now that WillardFest has made the jump from idea to reality, it shouldn’t be hard for Wirth, Herrick and the others to get the community involved.
“This was just great,” said Sharon Wilky, a 12-year resident of the Willard neighborhood. “I already have ideas for next year.”
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Digby Roberts, 8, and Elsa Hersey, 7, pick up “Cop Collectibles” trading cards during WillardFest on July 16. “I’m going to start a collection,” Hersey said.
South Portland Fire Deparment’s ladder truck rises 110 feet into the air to the cheers of children who had gathered around to watch the ladder rise into the sky. “It’s pretty fun to climb it,” said Firefighter George Grabler.