Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Leading the way for a more equitable future for families across the state
By Nancy Peevy | Photos courtesy of AACF
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) was founded in 1977 to advance public policies that improve the wellbeing of children and families, especially those that are most vulnerable because of poverty, racism and other structural barriers.
Through research and advocacy, AACF raises awareness and promotes reforms through state policy regarding issues such as health, education, family economic security, juvenile justice and child welfare.
It also advocates for children like Tomasi,* a 5-year-old Marshallese boy from Springdale who was unable to receive a feeding tube due to a lack of health insurance. Despite being a legal citizen whose family income was well within the coverage guidelines, a glitch in federal law excluded him and other Marshallese children from having access to ARKids – a health insurance program that provides coverage for thousands of children across Arkansas.
In January 2018, following years of work, AACF was successful in getting coverage for Tomasi and at least 2,500 other Marshallese children. “It’s a life-changing benefit for families in the Marshallese community,” says Laura Kellams, AACF’s Northwest Arkansas director.
Serving as an independent voice for children and low-income families for over 40 years, the nonprofit fulfills its mission by advocating for policy changes that will transform the lives of Arkansans who have been left out of the conversation.
According to recent studies, almost half of the children in Northwest Arkansas are living with families that are designated as “low income,” or with a combined income that’s less than $41,560 for a family of three. Moreover, only 38 percent of all children in Washington, Benton, Madison and Carroll counties have access to medical services through ARKids First or Medicaid.
The pandemic has made AACF’s work even more important. The Arkansas Department of Human Services reports that about 318,000 people were enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) before the pandemic, compared to about 404,000 at the end of June. Feeding America estimates that the food insecurity rate increased by about 39 percent during the same time period in Arkansas.
“Our work has always been focused on the children in our state who don’t have as many opportunities and who may not be able to live up to their full potential because of their community or family circumstance, and the pandemic hit those children the hardest. So, we’re trying to make sure that our state and federal response recognizes that and makes children and their needs a priority,” says Kellams. “We’ve witnessed the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on families who were already in need. More families and children have fallen into poverty and we’ve seen that disproportionately affect communities of color – Hispanic families, Marshallese families and Black families.”
As a nonprofit, AACF does not receive state or federal funding for its advocacy work. This allows the organization to serve as a respected and independent voice for all families. But it also means the organization relies on the community for financial support.
20th Annual Soup Sunday
For the past 20 years, supporters have gathered for AACF’s annual Soup Sunday event, a major fundraiser that supports the organization’s mission and advocacy efforts across the state.
Under normal circumstances, attendees would arrive at the event with an empty belly and full heart – eager to sample the delicious soups, bread and desserts from more than 30 area restaurants as they enjoy live entertainment, a silent auction and more.
Due to the pandemic, the 20th annual Soup Sunday is being held virtually. The organization invites the community to enjoy the event from the comfort of their own home while supporting the local restaurants that have participated in the past.
Ticketholders are encouraged to visit participating restaurants — such as Arsaga’s, Big Orange, Susan’s Restaurant, The Hive at 21c, Local Lime and others in the region — between Jan. 21 and Jan. 31.
“During that 10-day period, we want you to visit those restaurants, or call in and order takeout,” says Missy Kincaid, AACF’s Northwest Arkansas development director. “This has been a difficult time for the restaurant and hospitality community, and our hope is that ticketholders will visit these restaurants and spend money. It’s a way for us to support them and thank them for their years of participation.”
The virtual Soup Sunday event on Jan. 31 is open to the public and will include videos from local chefs, recipes and a pre-recorded Golden Ladle Competition. Tickets are $35 for individuals and can be purchased online via the AACF website. Organizers hope to raise at least $100,000, after raising a record-breaking $175,000 last year.
“We do not get state and local funding, so that allows us to be an independent voice at the capitol,” says Kincaid. “It’s also why Soup Sunday is so important.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.
For tickets and more information about this year’s Soup Sunday event, visit www.aradvocates.org/events.