Nourishing an American City's Comeback, One Bowl of Soup at a Time

Detroit's on the rise and this resident is feeding its renewal.

A lot has changed in the seven years Amy Kaherl has lived in Detroit. “In 2008, it was a lot more lawless. Blight was at, probably, its all-time high. Streetlights were getting shot off, not turned on,” says Kaherl, who grew up outside the city in suburban Sterling Heights. A few years back, the city “was so quiet. And I think that that quietness in this urban center can be very scary.”

Most of us are familiar with the broad strokes of Detroit’s decline — car companies lost sales to competitors overseas, suburbs siphoned tax dollars from the urban core, riots erupted, residents fled en masse, homicide rates spiked and, in 2013, the city became the largest American municipality to file for bankruptcy. But few know that the Motor City’s rebirth began over spoonfuls of soup — specifically, over one pot of potato leek on a frigid Super Bowl Sunday in February 2010.

That evening Kaherl, a young, idealistic deejay sporting large glasses, co-founded Detroit SOUP, a monthly gathering where residents share a bowl of soup at the same time they’re funding local initiatives. Kaherl, who serves as the initiative’s director, explains, “For $5, you get soup, salad, bread and a roll, and you hear four pitches that are trying to make the city better.” Each presenter gets four minutes to share an idea and then fields four questions from the audience. “Then the diners get a chance to eat, share, connect and vote,” she continues. “Whoever has the most votes at the end of the night wins the money that was gathered at the door.”

Some SOUP events focus on the entire city, while others are centered on specific neighborhoods. In the past five years, more than 800 ideas have been presented. The pot for a citywide night averages roughly $1,000; winners at the smaller gathering usually net around $700.

SOUP’s “microgrants” run the gamut of civic projects, including art, urban agriculture, social entrepreneurship, education and tech. One college student designed winter coats that could double as sleeping bags and founded the Empowerment Project by hiring 20 formerly homeless women to sew them. Another group, Rebel Nell, employed women living in shelters to make jewelry from chipped graffiti paint. Funds have also supported poetry and writers’ groups, bike mechanic training classes, a local travel guide, a documentary film, free Shakespeare performances and benches for bus stops.

Click HERE To Vote For Detroit Soup!!!!


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