Cooking something good

. May 25, 2012.

“I’ve never won anything in my life,” says Maxwell Austin. “I’m the guy, I get a scratch-off lottery ticket and nothing. Every time.” But the owner and operator of Glass City Pedicabs, the people-powered downtown transit alternative that’s rapidly gaining a higher profile since its inception last summer, has seen his luck improve in the best way. On Sunday, March 4, Austin was the recipient of a four-figure grant at the inaugural Toledo SOUP dinner, held at the Davis Building — and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, or at a better time.

Grassroots victory
SOUP, a community-based microgrant program inspired by similar events in other cities, allows anyone with a good idea to submit a proposal. Community members make five-dollar donations and receive a bowl of—you guessed it—soup. While eating, attendees listen to the proposals of pre-selected finalists and then vote on a winner. The winner takes home the collected donations. At the first SOUP dinner, organizers were just hoping to raise $500 or so — but well over 100 interested donors attended, and when the dust settled, Austin and Glass City Pedicabs took home $1047.25 in grant money.
Austin hadn’t even heard of SOUP until friends brought it to his attention on Facebook. But his grant proposal had the virtue of simplicity and practicality — Glass City Pedicabs already existed; he just needed cash to cover the expense of his liability insurance. (He hoped to buy a $1 million policy, significantly more than required by law.) The SOUP grant made that possible, and more. It helped with simple practical matters, the kind that could change a do-it-yourself, seat-of-the-pants operation like Glass City into a full-fledged small business. Austin opened a company checking account, got a debit card and checks, and a log book to keep track of his finances. And of course, for a company that’s only as good as its vehicles, he picked up some spare parts — “three bike chains and six tires,” he remembers.

By the people,
for the people
But SOUP is about more than money — it’s described as “community based” for a reason. Simply getting dozens of people together, people who care about Toledo and want to support good work, is enormously valuable and can have unforeseen effects. “It really opened a ton of doors,” says Austin. “It’s well worth going just for the networking — all types of people approached me to offer their help.” He’s now working with local artists like Devicious’ Matt Taylor to decorate his fleet of pedal-powered vehicles, and looking for companies to buy advertising and sponsorships.

Austin is thrilled by the possibilities that are offered, for himself and for others. He didn’t just buy spare parts and insurance with his SOUP windfall — he was careful to set aside $100 to donate to the next SOUP event, to be held in June. With his continued commitment, the virtuous cycle will continue, and the community can continue to flourish. He’s excited about Toledo, about the special time and place that’s right now. “It’s the right size, and we’ve got the right group of people,” he says. “We want to make this place awesome. I love this place.”

Glass City Pedicabs, 419-309-3780.