SOUP for the Soul

Anyone who has felt the wrath of a head cold knows the therapeutic, comforting effects of soup. But did you know that same broth-y remedy could also heal neighborhoods? That it can help build a community garden in Franklinton? Or assist educational advocates with distributing school supplies?

It can do all that and more when in the hands of the people behind Columbus SOUP, a year-old grassroots organization that hosts crowdfunding events aimed at supporting creative philanthropic projects. Based on a similar group in Detroit, it’s part of a global network of affiliates of the Sunday Soup initiative, which encourages collective gatherings over savory bowls to provide democratically chosen micro grants.

Columbus SOUP occupies a different venue once each quarter and charges a minimum donation of $7 for food and drink, and then all the attendees listen to local groups give presentations about projects to beautify, feed, educate, empower, and improve life in the city. Each attendee gets a vote, and the project with the most votes receives all the cash.

“It’s just so cool at the end when you’re handing over that money that everyone decided these people [should] get. It’s so emotional,” said Liz Martin, executive director of Columbus SOUP, which is under the fiscal sponsorship of the Greater Columbus Arts Council.

Area restaurants, caterers, artisans, grocery stores, and gardens have contributed all the food items for free at each event, which include soup, of course, but also breads, salads, confections, and anything else that purveyors are kind enough to provide. In addition, Columbus SOUP holds a raffle for donated gifts and prizes, with proceeds going to the project that receives the second-most votes.

Each gathering has a theme, and the range of winners from only four events has reflected the diversity of philanthropic projects active in the city – eighth grade students who were documenting the history, decline, current problems, and reasons for hope within their Linden neighborhood; and the “Stop the Violence: Columbus Summer Jam,” an educational and fun family cookout. At each meeting, the previous winning group returns to give an update on the project’s progress and how the money has been spent. Thus far, over 750 people attended a Columbus SOUP event and raised more than $8,000 in the process.

“Connecting over a meal and also doing some good I think is something that resonates with a lot of people,” said Martin, who manages the operation along with three other core team members.

She said that soup feels like a perfect fit for a movement like this – the potpourri of ingredients intermingling just like people at the events. And like its namesake, the whole is much more powerful than the sum of its parts. •

Arts and culture will be the theme for the next Columbus SOUP event, which takes place on July 20, 2014, at CCAD MindMarket. To RSVP (max. 250 attendees), apply for a SOUP grant, or learn more about the project, visit