Detroit SOUP: A grassroots recipe for nourishing community

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It’s a cheap dinner out!
It’s a fundraiser!
It’s a community builder!
It’s democracy in action!
It’s a Champion of Change recognized by the White House!
Actually, Detroit SOUP is all of the above!

Detroit SOUP  is a tremendously successful grassroots enterprise that started in 2010 in Detroit’s Mexicantown area (that’s part of the city’s wonderfully diverse southwest side). Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez got a small group of friends together for soup dinners in a loft above a bakery and gave the funds they took at the door back to the community.

Detroit SOUP: Recycling one of Detroit’s treasures

Their idea took off!

So, Detroit SOUP moved to a permanent home in Detroit’s New Center area. If you’re passing through Michigan, Detroit SOUP is now located near our landmark Fisher Building in the former home of Detroit’s once-famous Jam Handy studios. Like so much in the Motor City, this is recycling at its best. Long vacant, Jam Handy once was on the cutting edge of commercial filmmaking. The studio produced the 1944 cartoon version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as countless commercials and industrial-training films.

When is the next Detroit SOUP event? Coming right up July 14! (Click the Detroit SOUP photo, at right, to get all the details.)

What happens? Volunteers plan and carry out monthly dinners for more than 200 guests, who pay $5 to sit at long communal tables made of old doors and boards and enjoy a dinner of soup, bread and salad (all the food is donated). During the meal, diners hear up to four short proposals from people who need a little financial boost to get a community project or artistic endeavor off the ground. Everyone present votes on the proposal they like best, and the winner gets a little grant for his or her project.

WHITE HOUSE HONORS: Detroit SOUP has been so successful at bringing people together and promoting community betterment that its director, Amy Kaherl, was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change in the “crowdsourcing” category.

Detroit SOUP:
An idea that’s easy to imitate

It’s such a cool idea—and one that is easy for other communities to copy. In fact, Detroit SOUP didn’t invent it. They got the idea from InCUBATE in Chicago, a group dedicated to exploring new approaches to arts administration and funding. InCUBATE started Sunday Soup dinners in 2007. (Sunday Soup returned to Chicago last year after taking a two-year break.) The Sunday Soup idea has been implemented in nearly 90 communities around the world–mostly in the U.S. but also in Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan.

One of the winning projects at DetroitSOUP was Spaulding Court in Detroit. My son-in-law, Jon Koller, heads a nonprofit organization that is renovating this dilapidated 100-year-old townhouse community. And then Friends of Spaulding Court copied the DetroitSOUP idea. For several years they ran a similar fundraising soup dinner called Soup at Spaulding. (Heading to Detroit and want to find Spaulding Court? It’s off 12th Street, aka Rosa Parks, a few blocks north of the old Tiger Stadium site.)

During its three short years, Detroit SOUP has given back more than $27,000 to Detroit. The micro-grants have gone to a wide array of projects, including Veronika Scott’s Empowerment Plan, which produces coats that can be turned into sleeping bags for the homeless, and a high school group’s screen printed apparel project.

Detroit SOUP: Connecting the community

“Never in my wildest imagination did I think SOUP would grow to become a staple to the flow of the city,” said Amy Kaherl, who grew up and went to college in Michigan and then studied theology and popular culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasedena, Calif.

“SOUP has a natural way of connecting people. We are meeting to have a shared experience. People can bump elbows sitting next to one another on the floor, stand a little less awkwardly in line together, and talk about what project they think would best benefit from their $5. We have watched friendships made, jobs found, resources shared, projects find new collaborators, and even a couple meet and marry.”

Amy says SOUP gives her a way to study connection and meaning in our everyday experiences.  Take a look at this little clip from NBC Nightly News , where Amy says, “It’s a chance to draw people together, share ideas over a simple meal like soup, salad and bread and hear how people really want to help continue to revitalize the city. I love just being a connecting point for people.”

Try this soup recipe

Read the Spirit writer Terry Gallagher wrote a recent series in the Our Values department about his family’s Soup-a-thon. For 13 weeks every fall, the Gallaghers cook up a big pot of soup and invite friends to join them for a soup dinner. Here’s one of the recipes Terry provided then for a simple kidney bean soup. It comes from the More-With-Less Cookbook, commissioned in 1976 by the Mennonite Central Committee as a way of encouraging church members to use food resources wisely and to encourage the philosophy that if residents of North America use less, they can increase the food resources available elsewhere in the world.

Let us hear from you!

Do you think a program like DetroitSOUP would work in your community? Why or why not?

Do you have a good “more-with-less” soup recipe or a good soup story to share?

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

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