Community meals create opportunities for social entrepreneurship and action

The simple act of sharing a meal with a group of like-minded people is creating stronger community ties and generating resources to support causes such as hunger alleviation and local sustainable farming.

Community events such as pancake breakfasts and church suppers have long been a tradition in many American communities. New variants of this tradition are being explored with quite successful results. National Public Radio reports that as a result of national trends toward social entrepreneurship and micro-financing, “soup groups” are emerging across the country.

At a soup group event, participants pay a modest donation for a meal of soup and listen to proposals from people seeking funding for various projects. At the conclusion of the meal, votes are cast to select a recipient project to receive the donated funds.

 In Ann Arbor, Mich., the Selma Café offers a gathering place for people to think about and create ideas that support their sustainable, regional food economy.

One hundred fifty to 200 people share a weekly breakfast together in the Ann Arbor home of Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe. Proceeds from the meals have supported the creation of dozens of hoophouses in the region, adding more than 80,000 square feet of indoor, four-season growing space. Loan repayments from the recipient farmers provide the opportunity for continued reinvestment.

 On the morning of April 14, 2012, a similar event was held in the Lansing, Mich. area to benefit area food banks. Nearly 50 people of all ages gathered for "Breakfast with a Cause;" Incu-BaKe, a food business incubator, offered their commercial kitchen space as well as a place to dine. In exchange for conviviality and a delicious breakfast, attendees were asked to make a cash donation. All food items were donated by generous individuals and businesses, so every dollar contributed went directly to the food banks.

A total of $461 was raised from this event. Additionally, the excess food was “rescued” by the Greater Lansing Food Bank’s Food Movers program to be safely and quickly distributed to places such as shelters and soup kitchens where there is an immediate need for prepared food.

People have been socializing over good food for thousands of years. Intentionally adding in elements of social action and entrepreneurship creates a unique opportunity to nourish at many levels. Look around your community for one of these events – if one doesn’t exist, you can start one. Look to a local foods group, your neighborhood or block, your place of worship or food co-op for others who might share the vision of a meal and a cause.

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