Community Engagement

Fairhaven College alumni host weekly virtual concert series

With in-person concerts canceled, musicians turn to live streaming as way of maintaining tradition.

By Sophia Pappalau

Fairhaven College is hosting a series of weekly virtual music performances held on Facebook Live. The Fairhaven College Music Festival is an annual celebration of the musical community held at The Outback farm with performances by Fairhaven alumni. 

The festival was put on hold due to COVID-19. With collaboration between festival founder and Fairhaven College alumni Don Schlueter and John Bower, dean of Fairhaven College, the festival is happening this year, but in a new way. 

Bower said the sense of community shared by Fairhaven College alumni is the driving force behind the series. 

one person playing the banjo next to another person playing guitar

“We have 50 years worth of alums who play music professionally,” Bower said. “The series is about giving them the chance to entertain us and reflect on how important Fairhaven was to their education and their lives.”

According to the festival’s Facebook page, notable Fairhaven College alumni to perform in the 2020 series have been local musicians Flip Breskin and Coty Hogue.

Breskin, a major player in the Northwest folk scene since the 1970s, said Bellingham has long been a hub for musical transmission and performance. When Breskin moved to Bellingham in 1970, Americana or folk music was the popular genre. Bellingham was home to a lively music scene, and students hosted their own folk-music concerts, Breskin said. 

It was during her time attending Fairhaven College that Breskin took over management of Mama Sundays, now known as the Underground Coffeehouse, promoting weekly folk music shows there from 1970 to 1975.

The Fairhaven College Music Festival Streaming Series traces its roots back to those student-run events. 

The shared love of folk music became an integral part of what helped sustain the unique and mutually supportive atmosphere among Bellingham musicians, Breskin said.

“People [in Bellingham] are generous with their time, their information,” Breskin said. “Musicians from other areas look around and say, ‘where I come from, musicians don’t support each other like this.’”

Despite the adjustment of playing to a screen rather than a crowd, Hogue, a 2007 Fairhaven College alumna, said musicians are finding Facebook Live a valuable medium to share memories and music.

Hogue performed for the Fairhaven Streaming Series on Facebook Live Oct. 8. Hogue opened her set with an original song, “Push on Through,” played solo with her guitar and some finger picking. “Push on Through” is one of the first songs she wrote while studying at Fairhaven College.

Over the years, the musical community has maintained its unique presence at Fairhaven College.

“I think it’s pretty cool that something like this is happening to connect across the generations of people going to this college. Hopefully it will start to incorporate people who are currently involved with the college too,” Hogue said. 

The Fairhaven College Music Festival Streaming Series is live every Thursday at 7 p.m. on the festival’s Facebook page

Weekly Food Pantry Pop-Up

With the closure of Western’s campus came a myriad of challenges and problems for the campus community.  

One major issue that affects nearly one-fourth of Western students is food insecurity, according to the 2017 WELS Second Year Survey results. A pop-up food pantry, created in collaboration with the Office of Student Life, Student Representation and Governance, Dining Services, and the Outback Farm, has been created to provide meal kits for students experiencing food insecurity. 

The pop-up food pantry is hosted from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays at the entrance of Viking Commons every week until June 10. Western students are able to walk through and pick up a meal kit after they show their Western ID. The food pantry is zero-contact, which means students only need to walk to one of the tables, grab a bag and move on. The meal-kits are limited to one per student. 

Food pantries aren’t a new thing to Western’s campus. During a normal quarter where students and faculty have access to Western’s campus and buildings, there are food pantries in Birnam Wood, Fairhaven College, the WHOLE Food Pantry at the Viking Union, and in some departments around campus. There are food access resources like Swipe Out Hunger and gift card options for groceries. The Outback Farm is also available to students. 

One issue with the Swipe Out Hunger or the grocery gift card resource is that it can impact a student’s financial aid package if they use them. Terri Kempton, the Outback Farm manager, said this was one of main reasons why she wanted to start the pop-up food pantry. 

Kempton said the Outback Farm is there to provide food for the community. The produce grown on the farm is harvested through volunteers that come in for work parties and is then distributed to volunteers, students, and also through WHOLE, but the harvest process has been disrupted by the pandemic. 

“Now we can’t have volunteer work parties and very few students are able to use the farm,” Kempton said. “All of the buildings on campus are locked so no one has access to the food pantries. When this all happened, a lot of people, including myself, were very concerned about what that meant for our food insecure students.” 

The Outback set up their first pop-up food pantry on March 22 at Fairhaven College. The pop-up was stocked with produce from the Outback Farm and Trader Joe’s surplus, and had anything from cage-free eggs to bread and fresh produce. 

“We unloaded the stuff at Fairhaven College and invited people to come,” Kempton said. “The food was gone within four hours, which indicated to us there is a huge need for access to food.” 

After the first pop-up pantry, Kempton realized they needed to create a better system for students to access the food in a low risk setting. She reached out to Karen Deysher, the coordinator for Student Advocacy and Identity Resource Center at Western, and Leti Romo, the assistant director for Student Representation and Governance, to establish a working group that focuses on food accessibility. Deysher and Romo have both worked on food pantry issues previously on Western’s campus. 

“It’s very easy to feel like we are working independently on an issue,” Kempton said. “But, unless we take a step back and look at the situation, we miss the opportunity to work together. We have come together in a working group to address food insecurity in our student population in a bigger, broader way.” 

The working group includes Christian Urcia, the assistant director of Residence Life at Western, as well as Steven Erbe, Western’s executive chef, and Stephen Wadsworth from Dining Services. For everyone involved, food access and security are important issues.  

Urcia was instrumental in setting up the Swipe Out Hunger program at Western and he helped start the food pantry and meal kits at Birnam Wood. Deysher and Romo are part of WHOLE, which run food pantries and provide food access resources at Western. 

For Urcia, getting the pop-up food pantry was a grassroots effort. It involved bringing together people from all over Western’s campus centered around the goal of providing food for students during a time where their normal resources are inaccessible.  

“All of this has come from the work of other people that work for or have previously worked at Western,” Urcia said. “It is a joint effort. Just because there are a few people working on the food pantry, there are many more people that are here to help with combating food insecurity.” 

Erbe and Wadsworth were instrumental in providing the food and work necessary to supply the pop-up pantry, Kempton said. The partnership has enabled the pop-up pantry to provide meal-kits that have enough food to last for one or more meals.  

Read the full Western Today article.