More soup, please.
The local crowdfunding organization Flint SOUP plans on increasing the number of dinners it holds this year, said its founder Adrian Montague. She started the organization in 2012 as a University of Michigan-Flint political science student. Including its debut dinner in October, 2012, Flint SOUP has held 15 events and raised more than $5,000 for local start-ups and creative community projects.
This year, Montague is planning on holding eleven dinners (one a month, except December). She graduated this spring and recently started a full-time consulting job with the Flint Area Reinvestment Office. With the support of her new employer, she'll have more funding to set up the dinners and recruit potential candidates.
Flint SOUP holds soup, salad and bread dinners, in which three or four candidates for funding pitch their ideas and how the money will help their project and the overall Flint community. Organizers, along with some attendees and presenters, bring the food. The events often draw between 50 to 85 people, Montague said. The next event is January 25 and will focus on spoken word artists. The host site has not been chosen yet.
People who attend the dinners donate at least five dollars, and after the proposals, vote on what project gets all of the proceeds.
"We never take any of it," Montague said. "We want to make the biggest impact of the city."
But the impact extends well beyond the money, Montague said. It spurs creativity, networking and community engagement.
Montague was inspired to start a local SOUP after attending her first Detroit SOUP event about four years ago. She went every month and the same thought prevailed in her mind.
"I want to do this for our city," she said.
Andrew Morton, a lecturer in the UM-Flint theatre and dance department, had Montague in a playwriting course at the time, and encouraged her to take the leap and start it locally. He helped organize and run the first Flint events and helped recruit people to attend.
"There is real, authentic community building," Morton said about the dinners.
The group received a $1,900 Share Art grant from the Greater Flint Arts Council in 2012 to get Flint SOUP started. The group has held dinners at several sites around Flint, including The Lunch Studio, the Center for Hope, Riverside Tabernacle and Café Rhema.
Russ Bedford, the founder of Flint Seed Democracy, regularly attends the dinners with his wife Crystal Pepperdine, to support Flint SOUP. His project was awarded more than $200 in May 2013 at a SOUP dinner. Bedford seeks donations of garden seeds from various sources. He repackages them by species, with a large mixture of varieties, and hands them out for free at various gardening events. The project's goal is to encourage gardening, seed saving and to develop local seed varieties. The micro-grant paid for the seed envelopes and labels until just recently.
"It's a very democratic and open process," Bedford said about Flint SOUP. This is an event where people can give five dollars and still make a difference because of sheer numbers."
In the early days, Montague and others would meet in coffee shops and other hang-out sites to strategize. A seven-person board selects candidates.
Flint SOUP moved into the university's Innovation Incubator this year. The center provides no-cost office space to student-run businesses. Everyone, both on campus and in the broader community, can tap into the other services, such as workshops, co-workspace for up to about 30 people, free WiFi access, white boards, business planning help, referrals to other support organizations, and mentorship with faculty or other business professionals.
"I used space for meetings most of the time," Montague said. "It is helpful to map out where we wanted to go with SOUP and how to get there. I needed a more permanent space for SOUP because we meet with a lot of community members and entrepreneurs. Our space is super helpful for people who wanted to just come in and speak with us."
Flint SOUP has both office space at the Incubator and the Flint Area Reinvestment Office. Sherry Hayden, the administrative coordinator at the Incubator, said Montague brings commitment to Flint SOUP.
"She is great, she is very upbeat and cheerful and extremely serious about wanting to make a big change," Hayden said. "For her, it's really a calling."