When Andrew and I came to live and start a business in Bay View – a very happening neighborhood on the south side of Milwaukee – we joined the Bay View Neighborhood Association so we could become involved with the movers and shakers that had organized “to connect neighbors for a better B
ay View”. Before long I was on the board of the BVNA. One of the things that I noticed was that the BVNA could do a better job being the forum for neighbors who wanted to make improvements in our area with the support of other neighbors. To this end, another board member, Christopher Miller and I heard about a community supper that had been started in Detroit called Detroit SOUP and decided to adapt it provide this forum in our neighborhood. We call ours Southside SOUP with the intention of including the neighborhoods adjacent to ours for raising awareness of what was happening around us and for opportunities to collaborate with them.
About 3 times a year we organize an event at a local restaurant, bar or community center and hold a simple community supper of soup, salad, bread and dessert. We invite our neighbors to present an idea they might have for a project that would benefit the neighborhood for which they are prepared to execute themselves with money that is crowd-sourced from the event. We select 4 projects for each supper. Each presenter stands before the audience and has a 4 minute conversation sans any technology with the audience of attendees about the project that they would like to see done. Then each presenter fields 4 questions about the nature of the project from the guests. After that the 4 presenters walk to each table with a dessert platter to answer further questions that anyone may still have. At the conclusion of the dinner, the audience votes on the idea they liked best. The winner takes home the “kitty” of money collected from ticket sales for the event. The venue and all the food is donated so 100% of the money received goes for the project. A ticket costs $1-$50 depending on an individual’s ability to pay. Typically 50-80 people attend and the kitty is usually $500-$800 dollars. It is a fantastic way to connect neighbors, raise consciousness about issues and ideas in the neighborhood, and inspire people to take charge of manageable projects to improve where they live.
We have had 6 dinners so far. The winners include a local chef who wanted to purchase cooking items like pots and pans and utensils for the local neighborhood community center so she could upgrade the cooking classes she taught to neighbors. A teacher won for a mini United Nations club she was starting at her school to develop understanding and tolerance towards people of all cultures in her grade school students. An educator from another school won funds to continue her work developing a community garden and expanding agriculture education and a family cooking program she organized to teach children how to grow vegetables and then with their families how to cook them into healthy meals. A group of local women won the money to organize political forums for the public to hear from women running for political office for the first time. An artist won during a Veteran’s themed event to buy art supplies for an art center she was starting at her church for homeless veterans. And finally, a group of local activists won to have a mural painted on a city wall in a very diverse neighborhood as a way to have the various different groups of people get together, get to know each other and peacefully collaborate together on something for their neighborhood.
At each subsequent dinner, the winner from the previous event returns to tell the audience about the success of their project. So far all projects were eventually successfully completed. The mural project is waiting for spring weather to be completed.
On February 9th from 4-7 p.m. we will be holding our next event at the Bay View Community Center. This time we are trying something new. The educator who won the kitty for her work with the community garden/family cooking classes at her school (Erin Dentice) will be teaching the neighborhood at the BVCC how to make a delicious soup the day before the event and our the editor of the local paper – The Bay View Compass (Katherine Keller) will be demonstrating how to make Irish soda bread and making the bread for the SOUP event. So instead of donations of the food for the event being solicited from local restaurant, essentially the community will be making the food together for the SOUP event the next day.
The projects that we have selected for presentation at this next Southside SOUP supper are: Becky Archibald (under the auspices of the South Shore Yacht Club) wants to organize a beach clean-up and proper disposal of the tremendous amount plastic and other debris that washed up in an epic wind storm in January along the south shore of Lake Michigan. Sebastian Clancy and a few of his friends would like to work with Street Angels – a group that drives around locating and helping the homeless – to buy and deliver winter boots for homeless people they find without them. And finally, Deanne Lawson who works with the Inner Beauty Center for victims of sexual exploitation would like to win money so that the center can get the rest of the money they need to purchase a van for outreach to those victims on the street. Our fourth presenter Nichole LaBrie wanted to paint the crosswalk with a bold design at the intersection near her daughter’s school where a well-known friend was killed recently due to reckless driving. Unfortunately she has had to cancel at the last minute, but we hope to hear from her at a future event.
There is still time to buy a ticket for the event, so if you are local and would like to dine with your neighbors and engage with the leaders in your midst, consider joining us this Sunday at the Bay View Community Center. Tickets must be purchased in advance and can be found at southsidesoup.org. We hope to see you there!