Dec. 9, 2013
By Leah Howard
Just hours after the wrapping the regular season with a furious late comeback against Indiana and celebrating senior day with their classmates, field hockey senior/juniors Lauren Hauge and Sammy Gray hopped in a car -- with Hauge's mom, in town for the weekend homestand, behind the wheel -- and took off for an old warehouse in Detroit.
It was their first hands-on experience with Detroit SOUP, a micro-granting dinner held every month in the North End and the inspiration behind their own young student organization.
For $5, attendees received soup, salad and a vote. After listening to presentations from four local non-profits, they ate together, discussed what they had heard, shared ideas and opinions and voted. The organization which earned the most votes took home the money collected at the door.
Simply put, it's an opportunity for the community to choose how the community can be made better.
Less than a month later, the Wolverine duo, along with senior/junior men's lacrosse player Max Zwolan and several other university students, hosted their first Ann Arbor SOUP dinner of the year on a chilly Sunday evening at the Blind Pig.
The event brought in more than 150 people, who heard proposals from WCBN, 826 Michigan, RoundTable and Food Recovery Network -- three student-led organizations and one from the Ann Arbor community. The evening's winner, earning $1,074, was Food Recovery Network (FRN), which works to fight food waste on campus by recovering leftover, edible food from select dormitory dining halls and delivering it to Food Gatherers, which redistributes it to food organizations throughout the county.
It pledged to use its winnings to purchase more equipment and help sustain its planned expansion to additional dinning halls. A week after the event, the national FRN organization was highlighted by USA Today with Ann Arbor SOUP receiving a brief mention.
The SOUP event came just 10 days after the launch of Michigan Athletics' new Let's Go Do program, a community service initiative built in collaboration with U-M student-athletes to provide meaningful volunteer opportunities in the community. One of the pillars of the program is to encourage and make available diverse service opportunities.
"This is exactly what we're looking for -- student-athletes going out and finding opportunities, getting involved and making it their own," said Jevon Moore, coordinator of Community and University Engagement. "Ann Arbor SOUP is a great example of student-athletes taking community service and making it something that matches their interests and fits into their schedules. The goal of our program is to continue to support our student-athletes with these opportunities and be a resource for them."
Modeled after the three-year-old Detroit organization, Ann Arbor SOUP is approaching its one-year anniversary. Founder Izzy Morrison, an LSA senior, ran the first SOUP event by herself last March after receiving a grant from Sharable magazine. The inaugural dinner drew around 100 attendees and raised $900 for ReSource Fund, a student organization which serves low-income communities in Washtenaw County with equitable financial services.
Looking to expand in the new academic year, Morrison called a mass meeting in September, reaching Hauge, among others, via email through her urban planning major. Hauge in turn recruited Gray and Zwolan to the meeting, and the three student-athletes are now included in the handful of initial participants that make up the core of Ann Arbor SOUP.
"I had heard about Detroit SOUP and knew I wanted to be in on this," said Hauge. "I love the whole concept because it's so organic. It's just a bunch of people meeting and talking about how they want to make their community better. Through only investing $5, they actually make a huge impact."
The build-up for the November dinner was more elaborate then what the organizers expect necessary for future events. Many of the divvied-up responsibilities led to first-time experiences, such as soliciting project proposals, promoting the event through various traditional and social media channels and working with the student government, venues, sponsors and presenting organizations.
Ann Arbor SOUP received 12 proposals; all which answered three basic questions -- what is the organization's project, how would they use SOUP funding and why does it matter to the Ann Arbor community. The planning committee narrowed it down to the four organizations that would present at the event and encouraged them to help boost the event's attendance.
Outside of a long line at the door and perhaps a mild shortage of their namesake meal, the SOUP organizers were pleased with its success and have received positive feedback and increased interest. The plan is to put on two more events next semester, and November's dinner served as an excellent live trial.
"It was a good learning experience," said Gray. "We learned what we wanted to do for those, what we didn't want to do, how people liked the venue, if we needed more soup, etc. I think it was a good way to get it off and running. I don't think any event is going to be perfect your first time. But it was definitely a good start."
Beyond the basic fine-tuning of details, the larger goals for Ann Arbor SOUP moving forward are to make the organization more financially sustainable and encourage more visibility and engagement throughout the Ann Arbor community. The November event featured a good split of students and local residents, and it's precisely that blend which goes to the heart of what the organization is trying to accomplish.
"Ann Arbor SOUP is great because it links student organizations with local community organizations and brings everything together into a collaborative environment," said Zwolan. "Growing up in Ann Arbor, I might take a little more interest than the typical U-M student, but I also know that this is a very special place. So, having the opportunity to help with this organization has been pretty awesome."
"The idea is to make a crowd-funding system that is sustainable and lasts forever," said Hauge. "That must be community based, because students come and go. But students have some amazing ideas. It's a generative and fast-moving environment. I think if you bring that out into the community, give them a chance to hear these students in a new way and give them equal chance to pitch their ideas, you're empowering both sides. SOUP can be a great liaison between the two different worlds, and I really thought that showed through the event."