Some things are better together. Add soup to a March evening and you’ve elevated a chilly night to a cozy gathering. Stir in friends, family and the best soup in Little Rock, and you’ve created an event to remember.
Next month, Soup Sunday will combine high-quality ingredients for a souper charity fundraiser — a generous portion of all-ages fun, delicious food, great music, a silent auction and, of course, a worthy cause benefiting Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF). Soup lovers will have their pick of soups from Arkansas restaurants, including from this year’s featured chef James Hale of Allsopp & Chapple, while veteran attendees come armed with muffin tins to optimize their soup-carrying potential.
Even with bowl after bowl of soup at the ready, supporting AACF’s work is the most crucial Soup Sunday ingredient.
“Our mission is to ensure that every child, especially the most vulnerable, has the resources and opportunities they need to live healthy and productive lives and to realize their full potential,” says Fran Carter, AACF’s development director.
The team behind Soup Sunday, led by co-chairs Shannon Collier-Tenison and Danyelle Walker, hopes to raise $135,000 with this year’s event. These funds will continue the work AACF has done in the state for more than 45 years. Unlike nonprofits dedicated to direct services, AACF uses research, strategic communication, coalition building and advocacy to improve public policy. Some of their biggest accomplishments to date include working toward policy requiring school breakfast programs for low-income children, major overhauls of the juvenile justice and child welfare systems and increasing the minimum wage.
An excellent pairing in their own right, both co-chairs bring complementary backgrounds and a dedication to volunteer service in this event and AACF’s mission as a whole. Walker, a bankruptcy attorney, learned about AACF while serving on the board for Our House.
“I already had a passion for empowering homeless and near-homeless families in central Arkansas,” Walker says. “When I reviewed AACF’s purpose, I thought that it would be an excellent complement to the Our House board and allow me to be involved in supporting the policies that assist families in Arkansas.”
Collier-Tenison learned about AACF through her work on the faculty of UA Little Rock’s social work department and as a member of the university’s administration team.
“I was first inspired when I would have Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, speak to my classes about the advocacy work that AACF does. I felt it was important for my students to connect the importance of advocacy and policy with what social workers do,” she says. “Her talks made me a lot more interested in the work AACF does, too.”
Both Walker and Collier-Tenison are serving their ninth and final year on the AACF board, and while many AACF initiatives have stood out to them both over the years, they each have causes they are most passionate about.
For Walker, it’s access to health care.
“More Arkansas children have lost health coverage than any other state in 2023,” she says. “Bureaucratic requirements and red tape should not be the reason why children and families lose health coverage. I am so very proud of the active role AACF takes in promoting policies that are geared toward the ultimate goal of all children having health insurance.”
“I’m doing work on pre-K,” says Collier-Tenison, who felt drawn to AACF’s dedication to early childhood education. “As a person with a social work background, in a rural poor state, childhood issues are hugely important.”
Both, however, are united on what makes Soup Sunday so special: the people.
“Of course I love the soup, but I absolutely love the different groups of people there. From young to old, it is such an eclectic group of people, and it feels like such a wonderful family tradition for many,” Walker says.
Likewise, the same could be said for the people behind the scenes.
“I have a really good co-chair in Danyelle. She is so dynamic,” Collier-Tenison says. “And the AACF staff makes it so easy. We also have great committee members that are a diverse group of people who have served before and even a few people new to the community who joined to plug in.”
Last year marked a significant milestone for AACF when Keesa Smith joined the organization as its fifth-ever executive director. She brought with her years of policy experience ranging from the governor’s suite to legal aid to a decade of leadership in the Arkansas Department of Human Services.
For 2024, Carter says AACF’s game plan includes pushing for increased funding for and access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at the federal level.
“In Arkansas,” she adds, “we will continue our work raising awareness about the importance of a well-funded state budget and the need to retain our state income taxes.”
In the meantime, Soup Sunday 2024 will help bring those plans to life by way of delicious fun, serving up a cause well worth polishing the old muffin tin for.
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