Here’s the thing about Knoxville SOUP. You think it’s going to be the same thing every time: a festively decorated venue, well-intentioned amateurs pitching their ideas about what they want to do to make something good happen in the community, a simple but delicious meal of soup and salad, a lively session of raffle giveaways, and an announcement of the project that has won the most votes.
Genial host Alan Williams of WVLT keeps things running smoothly and efficiently while timekeeper Nancy Campbell signals when the speakers are near their limit. The audience claps encouragingly for the presenters, many of whom are palpably nervous. Everyone relaxes and socializes over the dinner.
But what you forget – every time – is how sincere and good-hearted the presenters are, and how much thought they’ve put into their concepts for making life better in our neck of the woods.
Tuesday night was a vivid reminder. The rotating, quarterly dinner was held at Dara’s Garden, an event venue on Maryville Pike that was looking radiant with spring flowers. The crowd was sizable – just over 150 people. The SOUP team was friendly and welcoming. The soup choices and accompaniments, catered by Rothchild, were delicious.
But the projects – oh, the projects. Their descriptions in the program seemed admirable but not particularly mind-boggling. But put an eager face and a passionate voice in front of a SOUP crowd, and watch out.
Tuesday’s event was exceptional. The projects that seemed so simple on paper were poignant as presented. One group has been making blankets for patients at Children’s Hospital for seven years and was hoping to win the “pot” from the door (a $5 donation per person is suggested) to buy supplies. A shop owner from Colonial Village needed some help to buy materials to brighten up her corner, which is at the start of the Dogwood Trail.
An enthusiastic volunteer from the South Waterfront Neighborhood Association brought a plan to help new student renters at 303 Flats feel like part of the neighborhood.
They all were engaging. Their ideas were all worthy.
But they made the mistake of presenting on the night that Constance Every, a disabled Army veteran, brought the project she calls Sleeves4Needs to SOUP.
Last year Every did yard work for a woman who had no money to pay for a service. She did it at no charge. The woman told her friends. Lots of them called Every. She recruited some friends and some guys fresh out of prison looking for something to do, and they spent the season mowing lawns for free.
She wore out her equipment. She needs new stuff. She has more people calling than she can serve. She needs money to take care of them.
Every was in the leadoff position. Maybe it wasn’t a cinch that she would win, but she pretty much set the bar out of reach, it seemed to this writer (who had friends involved in two of the other projects).
Not only did Sleeves4Needs win, but Every took home the largest SOUP pot ever: $1,050.
Knoxville SOUP has been held 14 times, collecting and distributing $8,400.75. Tuesday’s results were epic.
At the end, everyone seemed happy. Every and Kim Lambros, who presented for the blanket ministry, Bundled in Love, were so impressed with each other, they were ready to donate to each other’s projects. It was a beautiful thing.
Knoxville SOUP is presented by the South Knoxville Alliance. The next SOUP will be in July. Follow Knoxville SOUP on Facebook or visit the website to get details.