Five years ago this February, a group of people gathered in the loft above the Mexicantown Bakery in Southwest Detroit to discuss an idea over bowls of soup.
The group, which included musician Jessica Hernandez, whose family owns the Mexicantown Bakery, and Amy Kaherl, who would eventually become Detroit SOUP's director, listened to artist Kate Daughdrill discuss a framework for funding community projects she had learned about from a group in Chicago called InCUBATE
The concept was simple: invite community members to enjoy a meal consisting of soup, salad, and bread. While they ate, they would listen to other community members pitch ideas for projects to improve the community (specifically in the areas of art, justice, urban agriculture, and social entrepreneurship), then everyone would cast votes for their favorite idea. The pooled $5 donations collected from each attendee at the door would then be granted to the project that received the largest number of votes.
Since that fateful February evening in 2010, Detroit SOUP has hosted 90 dinners (each averaging over 200 attendees) and awarded over $85,000 to Detroiters with ideas for projects to improve their communities ("Money from Detroiters to Detroiters," as Amy Kaherl puts it). SOUP has been so successful over the last five years that national media outlets like the New York Times and CNN have covered its efforts. Even the White House has recognized Kaherl and SOUP for their work.
And now, as Detroit SOUP turns five, it's time to celebrate. On Sunday, Feb. 15, SOUP will be throwing a party and fundraiser in the atrium at Ford Field in downtown Detroit that will both honor past winners and generate funds that will help SOUP continue its work.
"I just wanted to celebrate," says Amy Kaherl, co-founder and director of Detroit SOUP. "With the event, we wanted to raise awareness and excitement."
While the money raised at SOUP dinners is critically important, it does not cover the administrative costs of running the nonprofit that organizes events. Kaherl hopes that the anniversary party will raise between $50,000 and $75,000, which, when combined with grants from the New Economy Initiative, the Skillman Foundation, the United Way, and the Detroit Lions, will go a long way to ensuring that SOUP is sustainable in 2015 and beyond.
"It's not cheap to run SOUP effectively," says Kaherl. "Some people think we're just a cute little organization, but it's not just cute. It has real impact in the city."
Those interested in attending SOUP's five year anniversary fundraiser can contribute in two ways: 1) Purchasing a $125 VIP ticket in advance of the event, which includes a special reception and meet-and-greet with former Detroit Lions Lomas Brown, Larry Tee, and Tim Walton, or 2) Purchasing a $25 general admission ticket. Tickets are available online here
Both tickets include dinner, which will be served between 6 and 7 p.m. during performances and presentations from past SOUP winners Obsidian Blues, SIDEWALK Festival of Performing Arts, D.A.N.C.E. Inc., Shakespeare in Detroit, Rebell Nell, and Shaka Senghor. The festivities will be emceed by Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley. (Watch Detroit SOUP's Facebook event page
for updates as additional – and potentially high profile – performers may be announced in the coming weeks.)
A special print magazine highlighting some of the best stories to come out of Detroit SOUP over the last five years will also be for sale at the event. To help Detroit SOUP celebrate its fifth anniversary, Model D
will be publishing selections from the magazine in the coming weeks.
Can't make it to the big event on Feb. 15? Can't afford a ticket? No problem. Detroit SOUP events happen all the time and only cost $5. (Visit DetroitSoup.com
from a schedule of events.)
"People always ask me why we don't charge more at SOUP dinners. It's because charging more would change SOUP, which is open and accessible to anyone."
The next five years…
Since 2010, SOUP has grown from a single monthly event into a citywide network of neighborhood SOUPs, from Brightmoor to Jefferson-Chalmers. Kaherl hopes to continue to expand SOUP events to more neighborhoods in 2015 and beyond.
"The more places we are doing SOUP, the more we'll understand what neighborhoods need," she says.
This year, not only is SOUP expanding within Detroit, it is going international. Kaherl has been working with the BBC, which is currently producing a program about Detroit in which SOUP figure prominently, and later in February, the producers will fly Kaherl to Katmandu, Nenpal, where she will run a workshop introducing residents of that city to the SOUP concept.
Detroit SOUP's Five Year Anniversary Fundraiser is happening Sunday, Feb. 15, 5-10 p.m. at Ford Field in downtown Detroit. Purchase tickets in advance via Brown Paper Tickets.
Matthew Lewis is Model D's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjlew.
Photo by Karpov.