Sometimes when I’m leafing through the pages of Grid, attending an Urban Sustainability Forum at the Academy of Natural Sciences, or looking into the latest local-centric online publication (Flying Kite, UCOffTheGrid, Plan Philly…), I’ll feel this surge of energy. It’s almost electric — the kind of adrenaline rush you get when things around you are changing and you find you’re lucky enough to be standing right in the center of it. To be, dare I say, born at the right time.
For some, that rush came during the 2008 Presidential election, when a generation often labeled cynical gathered in support of our president-elect. For me and others in my generation, it happens when an urban farm is planted, an artist-collective collaborates on an up-cycled installation or a team of public school teens builds a hybrid car.
Grassroots efforts are why I love Philly. Politics aside, you don’t have to be “connected” or hold an advanced degree to make something happen in your local community. Last Sunday’s Philly Stake Dinner, a recurring dinner to raise small grants, showed local citizens building new niches out of old challenges. Presentations from 10 budding creative projects included artistic reuse of waste materials, sustainable clothing manufacturers and vocational training for urban honeybee tenders.
More than 200 attendants packed into the basement of the First Unitarian Church in Center City. A local meal of spelt salad, slaw and potato soup served with bread and cheese was eaten community style. Organizers had anticipated raising one $750 grant, but instead raised $2,500.
Here's how it was parceled out: $1,000 to Refugee Urban Farm Project, a produce garden for recently resettled Bhutanese and Burmese refugees in South Philadelphia; $400 to Warrior Writers, which promotes self-expression among war veterans through the written word, performance and art; $400 to Recycled Artists-In-Residency, a collaborative effort of artists and industrial designers to inspire creative methods of diverting waste from landfills and develop a material reuse warehouse; the remaining $700 was saved for future Philly Stake Dinners.
At the end of the night, Philly Stake organizer Kate Strathmann had a wonderful problem. “If anyone knows of a larger venue with a kitchen attached, please let us know!” she exclaimed. “We’re blown away by the level of excitement, energy and support from the community, and look forward to being able to support more creative and engaged work in future events.”