Everybody in attendance has a stake in what happens, says founder Theresa Rose.
"A stake in Philadelphia, in the arts and creative thought, a stake in local organic food, a stake in the local economy," she says.
Nearly three years ago, Rose heard about this style of micro-granting - holding a sourced, recurring dinner at which money is distributed for community projects - which originated in Chicago under the name InCubate and spread worldwide. Now, there are 45 iterations of the concept.
The Johannesburg, South Africa group goes by the name Skafiten. In Milan, Italy, it's Granaio; Newcastle-upon-Tynn, England, has a group called Highbridge Artists. And in Kiev, Ukraine, the group calls itself Borscht.
In the United States, there's Sprout in Seattle, Feast in Brooklyn, Stir in Wilmington, and Sunday Soup in Phoenixville, Pa.
PhillyStake.org is relatively new. The fourth dinner of its young life was Nov. 13 in the basement of the Ukie Club on North Franklin Street in Philadelphia.
In a twist on the phrase kitchen-table politics, the events always center on a meal.
"Sharing a meal creates community," Rose says.
The location always changes, so Stake won't become identified with a particular neighborhood. And while access to public transit is a deciding factor in where to hold each of the two dinners per year, most diners ride their bikes to the events.
The size of the space determines how many can attend; that, in turn, determines the size of the pot. Space at the Ukie club limited attendance to 150. The dinners always sell out, Rose says, and drew as many as 300 previously.
At the Nov. 13 dinner, young men and women in jeans and tattoos wound their way through a buffet line and then to long tables facing the stage. They feasted on country pate, savory autumn tart, applesauce, roasted cauliflower, and cranberry relish, all made from scratch with locally grown ingredients donated by Garces Trading Co., Green Meadow Farm in Gap, Pa., and the Longview Center for Agriculture in Collegeville. Even the Kenzinger beer on tap was donated by the Philadelphia Brewing Company.
During dinner, the nine presenters stewed at booths along the sides of the dark room, eager to distribute brochures and make a case for their cause.
Then, between dinner and dessert (apple-pear upside-down cake with fresh whipped cream), they took turns on stage presenting their bright ideas. Each was nudged off the stage when the squeal of a green rhino dog toy signaled that three minutes had passed.
Like a kid on Santa's lap, Jordan Maseng said he hoped to build a cob oven for baking in Fishtown.
"I lived in China for two or three years and ran a bagel company there," Maseng said, hinting that his whole story could not be compressed into three minutes. "I want to teach people how to cook and grow."
Two young women explained their plan for a free creative-materials swap meet and simultaneous workshops in bookmaking, silk-screening, and quilting led by paid artists. They'd use the Stake money to rent space for the event.
Anita McKelvey, a culinary historian who said she was irritated by the tourist trade's focus on cheesesteaks, said she had researched the 300-year history of the hot pepper in Philadelphia and hoped to plant varieties in historic gardens at Wyck or Powel House. Think of the educational opportunities, she said.
"Maybe we could have a hot-pepper scavenger hunt," she said.
And so it went. Sarah Gabriel said the Homegrown Institute would use its money to bring racial, ethnic, and age diversity to the green movement. Diedra Krieger, wearing a white wig made of plastic bottle caps, said her project, Plastic Fantastic, would be a playful way to promote recycling water bottles.
And in the most creative presentation of the evening, two puppets named CeeCee and Eve, representing the Community Cultural Exchange, pleaded "please support our Stake," which was a five-week training program in marketing, promotion, and grant-writing for artists.
The big money - $1,000 in well-worn tens and twenties - went to Sink or Swim (SOS), a new nonprofit that helps pay the medical bills of people who are uninsured or underinsured.
Before the Stake supper, SOS had collected contributions on its Facebook page and paid $300 for prescription meds for a young man with acute liver failure. The Stake windfall will pay website expenses and allow the group to help five to 10 individuals each month, instead of just one, said Marion Leary, a nurse who founded the project.
At the next Stake dinner (the date hasn't been set, but it will be sometime in the spring, Rose said), Leary will be asked to report back.
Second prize, $800, went to Girls Rock Philly, a small nonprofit that runs music and mentoring programs for 9- to 17-year-olds. Last summer the group sponsored a weeklong summer camp with image and identity workshops. It will use the Stake funds to create a library of books and records charting the history of women's music. Each month, Stake hears from 25 to 30 groups seeking to present their causes at a dinner.
"There's nothing like this in the city," said Noelle Egan, a founder of Girls Rock Philly.
Stake's beauty is that it is intentionally simple and informal, says Rose, who is the Public Art Project manager in the Mayor's Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy. Stake is not a city-sanctioned effort, but an extracurricular project for Rose.
It was formed by putting out a call on the Web for organizers - an effort that netted a core of 15 or so 20- to 30-year-old artists and activists from different neighborhoods who, like Rose, enjoy putting their creativity to work solving social problems.
"I love that it wasn't just an in-group of friends," said Kate Strathmann, whose day job is farming with Greener Partners.
Presenters introduce themselves to Stake via a website, phillystake.org, and the loosely organized Stake volunteers decide who gets to make a live pitch at a dinner.
At previous Stake dinners, Refugee Urban Farm received $1,000 to establish a garden for Bhutanese and Burmese residents of South Philadelphia, and Warrior Writers got $400 to create safe writing environments for military veterans as part of Operation Recovery: A Campaign to Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops.
As with any meal, the evening is not over until the dishes are done. In this case, that means each person lines up to scrape and scrub, dry and stack each plate and fork.
"Even people on a budget can feel a bit like a philanthropist here," Rose says. "You can sense that people are happy to see where their money goes."
Learn more about the projects mentioned in this article at phillystake.org; sinkorswimphiladelphia.org; and girlsrockphilly.org
Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211, email@example.com, or @marderd on Twitter. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder