written by:
photos by:
May 23, 2012
Originally published in The Now 99

Creative projects get a leg up and their word out at gatherings that serve donations with a side of social capital. Move over, Kickstarter. Across the country, philanthropy is getting personalized.

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Detroit Soup communal dinner gathering

Cranbrook student Kate Daughdrill started Detroit Soup in 2010 as a way to empower her community—young creatives eager to help reverse the negative image that plagued their beloved city, but who lacked a way to connect and circulate concepts. Instead of relying on planners, architectural critics, and politicians for a top-down course of action, Daughdrill organized monthly dinners to help Detroit’s denizens band together to offer their version of good old-fashioned grassroots gumption.

“Who we are as a city and what we want to become are common topics here in Detroit,” says Amy Kaherl, the current director of Detroit Soup. “Our parents left this city in decay, but we see hope, not a place left in the lurch. We’re all looking forward to something better.”

At Detroit Soup’s Sunday dinners, which are open to the public and take place above a bakery in the Mexicantown neighborhood, attendees pay five dollars for a meal prepared by locals. As everyone dines, four individuals or groups pitch ideas ranging from homeless outreach to health clinics to public gardens. Audience members discuss the ideas, then cast their ballots for the project they’d like to see receive the proceeds from the dinner, typically between $600 and $900. The grants given each month are small, but the dinners’ fringe benefits are unquantifiable. And even if a project doesn’t take home the kitty, some generous attendees have been known to give in-kind donations to help fund projects that resonated with them.

Forty people came to the first Detroit Soup dinner, and in the years since, numbers have steadily crept up to about 150 attendees each month, making Detroit Soup a powerful platform to promote change and get ideas off the ground. “I like to think of it as the first step to get to the next step,” says Kaherl.

dinner table gathering Detroit Soup

The ideas presented at Detroit Soup’s monthly gatherings run the gamut from art projects to outreach initiatives. Here are a few that have gotten the green light.

Park Place
In July of 2011, Detroit Soup awarded Marcus Ryan’s “Bridge to the Garbage King” project, a plan to turn an abandoned, trash-strewn lot into a playground. Using the garbage in the neighborhood, Ryan engaged local kids to create their own mythical landscape with a dragon made out of tires as the centerpiece. “We wanted them to re-see the debris in a creative way,” says Ryan.

Top Coat
The brainchild of Veronika Scott, the Empowerment Plan provides homeless with waterproof jackets that transform into sleeping bags, and employs homeless women to make them. In 2010, the $720 Detroit Soup gave to Scott helped her develop the design and hire two women to make the first 50 coats. Since then, Empowerment Plan has produced 275 coats. empowermentplan.org

Sound Off
Noticeably absent from Detroit’s airwaves has been a community radio station. Enter Midtown Sound, a project presented by Anthony Eggert in November 2011. The donation from Detroit Soup helped him invest in turntables and equipment. midtownsound.org

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