Detroit SOUP: Feeding Community Projects
Hundreds of Detroiters pour into an empty warehouse near the New Center section of the City and gather around tables near the floor made of milk crates and plywood boards. As more people settle in, a woman takes the stage to explain what this night is all about. Boiled down to one word, that description could be "community." As you walk into the Detroit SOUP event, a minimum donation of five dollars is collected which buys you dinner and a vote for where to put your funds – it's as simple as that.
Borrowed from the research group InCUBATE, Detroit SOUP started in the Mexicantown section of town and now supports many offshoots of neighborhood SOUPs in Detroit. The agenda for the night was to hear proposals from each of the four community organizations with projects in mind to make the city better – and you decide what that means. Then your five dollars at the door buys you dinner, made by volunteers, usually with produce from their urban gardens, and a vote for which project you wish the donations collected will help to fund.
While the small totals collected may not even begin to make a dent in the funding sought by these organizations and projects, the true success of SOUP lies in its ability to strengthen community bonds through networking and sharing of resources. I talked to Harry Reisig of Replanting Roots, an organization doing re-entry education and job training in Detroit that won a small grant from Detroit SOUP a few years ago, who told me that even if a proposal doesn't win funds someone will have materials or skills to offer up to help the cause. Say your environmental non-profit is looking for someone to help teach children about community gardens – chances are someone at SOUP can connect you with a volunteer!
The SOUP event attracts a small number of Detroiters and at each month's dinner a majority of attendees are first-timers. On one hand, it's great for an organization to see increased involvement, but what does this fact say about the sustainability of the SOUP micro-grant mission?
In what creative ways have you been able to get involved in your city?
Credits: Images by author. Data linked to sources.