THERE’S SOMETHING about micro-granting dinners that always captured Monica Diodati’s attention. The rules are simple: Attendees pay $10 for a bowl of soup and a vote. They listen to a group of presenters explain their ideas for community projects. By the end of the night, everybody votes on who they think should take home the sum collected at the door. “SOUP dinners” have been popping up around the country, and this year, Monica decided Arkansas was ready to jump on the bandwagon. She pulled a team of five together and started planning. Close to 80 people showed up, and just like that, in only a few months, Bentonville’s first micro-granting dinner was born. Now, Monica and her team are working on changing the landscape of the Bentonville grassroots community, one SOUP dinner at a time.

On providing opportunities:

“What’s unique about the projects is that they really can be anything—it could be an artist who just needs help paying rent. Or, for example, our winner [in September] was a group that does LGBT meetups around Northwest Arkansas. We also had a presenter wanting to create a local map of all the food resources in the area, so that if businesses want to source locally, they have a good resource and an easy tool to use. Even though she didn’t win, the audience wanted to fund her project anyway, so she’s going to go ahead and do that as well, which is exciting.”

On the community’s response:

“On top of raising the money, the event just got a good response from the residents and community members who were really excited that this was happening. A lot of people connected with the presenters. Sometimes, in Bentonville, things can feel a little top-down. Even though there are so many great things happening in the area, in terms of quality of life and cultivating the creative community and things like that, not a lot of it is happening from the ground-up or at the grassroots level. We just wanted to create something that was for the community, by the community. To empower people to know that they actually have a say in what happens in their neighborhood. I think people crave that here. We also got really great weather—so that helped!”

On their first SOUP dinner:

“We had it at BikeNWA on 3rd street in a warehouse near downtown Bentonville. We wanted to choose an atypical space for the event, something that’s inspiring and a little raw—not like your typical event space. We’re going to keep doing that for future SOUPs as well. As for the food, we had a combination of attendees bringing their own food, potluck-style, and we had chefs in the community create food for the event that they donated. We had Matt Cooper of Preacher’s Son, Travis McConnell from Pressroom and Chef Rafael Rios of Yeyo’s brought out chips, salsa and guacamole.”

On SOUP’s other goals:

“I think there’s a knowledge barrier, as to like, What’s the first step? How do I do this? Who do I need permission from? Which, you know, can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t done anything like that before. It would be nice if SOUP could also expand to be a resource for anyone who wants to do something we could point them in the direction of. Like, which permit application they need to fill out, or who they need to talk to at City Hall. We’ve only had one SOUP, but once we have multiple events and winners, we’d like to create a little group where people can be a resource to each other. People would ask any questions they want to ask without feeling embarrassed or anything like that. We would help make those projects happen and it would be a community effort. That’s one of the goals as well.”