Soup that not only satiates your physical hunger, but your hunger for change--that’s what Pontiac SOUP has been serving up since 2017.
Based on the SOUP model that started in Detroit, Pontiac SOUP is a public event where attendees give a small donation for which they receive a simple dinner (soup) and a vote on one of several community improvement project ideas being presented that evening by local residents. Anyone can submit a project proposal prior to the event, and four are chosen by organizers to present at the evening. The winner takes home the kitty.
The founder of Pontiac Soup, Scott Stewart, was inspired to start a SOUP in Pontiac after attending a Detroit SOUP event.
“It’s that idea of grassroots fundraising and grassroots connection and collaboration that was really interesting, as well as that democracy focus," he says. "Everybody who comes gets a vote. And you don’t get many opportunities like that.”
Beyond the financial impact, project presenters benefit from being able to increase awareness in the community about their organization and project, connect with community members at the event, and practice their pitching skills for other opportunities.
Pontiac SOUP has grown since its inception. The last two events have had a matching donor, Build Institute, and costs were covered by the Pontiac Policy Council and Pontiac Community Foundation. So far, they've doubled the money raised by participants. Stewart plans to increase the frequency of Pontiac SOUP events to quarterly, as well as to continue to find matching donors and deepen the connection to the community.
To find more details about the upcoming Pontiac SOUP event in March, visit their website.
Now, meet the past winners and find out how SOUP helped them get their projects off the ground.
Veggie Food Truck
Cole Yoakum, Micah 6 Community
The winner of the very first ever Pontiac SOUP in 2017, Coleman Yoakum of Micah 6 Community, used his winnings to start a veggie food truck. For the past three years, the Micah 6 organization has sold fresh and local produce from its 1.5-acre community garden. During this time, they kept getting asked to do pop-up produce stands. So they opened up five pop-up shops but were using their own cars to transport produce to and from the sites--until they were able to purchase their veggie food truck.
Even more beneficial than the financial support to purchase the truck was the opportunity to connect with others in the community over the mission, according to Yoakum. After meeting someone at Pontiac SOUP, Micah 6 Community was encouraged to apply for and received, an additional $10,000 grant.
“It’s is getting to people that nobody is getting to,” Yoakum said about their popup stands.
Starting in mid-March, you will find Micah 6 Community and the veggie food truck at Bowen Senior Center in Pontiac on Tuesdays 11:30-12:30, Unity Park on Tuesdays 1:30-2:30, OLHSA on Thursdays 9:30-10:30, and the Ruth Peterson Center on Thursdays 12:00-1:00.
Max Maine of Max Out Fitness
Max Maine, Via Facebook
Max Maine, the owner of Max Out Fitness, won Pontiac SOUP in 2018 to help support his new juice bar. Max Out Fitness offers wellness services including personal training, fitness classes, herbal recommendations, and most recently, a juice bar. It's afforded the city a healthful amenity that did not exist before.
“Before the juice bar, a lot of people in Pontiac, including my members, used to drive out of Pontiac to go to Tropical Smoothie,” Maine says. “The juice bar gave our citizens a chance to get a healthier choice of smoothie right there in their backyard.”
Maine's favorite smoothie? Either the “Max Out Muscle” made with chia seeds, banana, cocoa powder, and protein powder, and honey, or the “Ginger Delight” made with ginger, mango, honey, and bananas.
With his winnings, Maine bought another blender and several tables for the juice bar.
In the future, Maine plans to support his community’s wellness by opening another juice bar in town or elsewhere, and becoming a trained chef. "I want to make sure I not only have the knowledge to guide people in making healthier food choices but show them how to cook and do it on their own,” he said.
The juice bar is open to the public, and is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. and Saturday 9 am-1 p.m., at 149 N. Perry St.
Center for Success
Andrea Meyer, Center for Success
At the Center for Success, Andrea Meyer works with students who are struggling to read. The money she won at Pontiac SOUP in September 2019 was used to support the Center’s programming Monday through Thursday. The Center provides transportation, meals, academic enrichment (such as featuring guest speakers), and an hour of one-on-one literacy lessons each day.
On average, students improve their reading scores by two years in just one program year, according to Meyer. The Center’s success, Meyer says, is due to the one-on-one tutoring and mentoring each student receives, and the relationships that form.
As an example, Meyer mentions one student, a fourth-grader, who was disengaged and struggled to make connections. Her reading was at the first-grade level. One day they took the students swimming. At first, the student was resistant to enter the water but after encouragement from the staff, she got in and had an amazing time. “Her confidence was just beaming,'' Meyer said.
To integrate this experience with the students’ fears of reading, Meyer said, “We took this confidence back to the center.” At the end of the year, her reading score had gone up by almost three full grade levels.
Future plans include partnering with other organizations that could offer benefit to the students, to fully utilize the space that they’re in, as well as to try to partner with businesses that wish to give financially, or in the form of providing volunteers.
Engineering Club for Kids
Alan Miller, Engineering Club for Kids
Alan Miller often poses as "the Human Statue" to solicit donations for the Pontiac Kids Engineering Club he runs for students in grades third through fifth out of the Center for Success.
Miller will get a break from statue-posing, however, after winning over $1,000 at the most recent Pontiac SOUP. The winnings will enable Miller to purchase materials for the students for half of the year. This semester, they’re working on model airplanes and experimenting with propulsion. Past projects have included rockets, water towers and how the sewer system works, and robots. While the focus is science, Miller explains that even more so it’s about the relationships the volunteers form with the students. Now in its seventh year, Miller is worried about the sustainability of the volunteer-led program when he eventually takes a step back. About the students, Miller said, “The only thing they’ve ever asked is for us to come back.” To volunteer or learn more about this program, contact Alan Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.