story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
Kissing pigs is generally encouraged here in Northwest Arkansas Razorback country, but on Saturday night (March 15), it was for a good cause. More than 1,700 people attended the 12th annual Kiss a Pig gala, which benefitted the Northwest Arkansas chapter of the American Diabetes Association.
The event broke both attendance and fundraising records, said Krista Coffee, director of the NWA chapter of the ADA. The event is expected to raise $575,000 from a combination of ticket sales, auctions both live and silent, and sponsorships, she said.
The money will be directed at regional efforts and support for people with diabetes.
Blues Traveler performed at the event, and fans gathered close to the stage for an intimate performance by the jam band. Lead singer John Popper is a diabetic, which is why the band “understood the importance of doing the event,” Coffee said. “Blues Traveler appeals to our diverse crowd and they do a great live show.”
The meaning behind kissing a pig is to honor the animal for being the first source of insulin for diabetics, according to the ADA. Guests lined up at the “Kissing Booth” to have their photos taken smooching the pig named Ring Master.
The gala has a different theme every year; this year it was “Under the Pig Top,” a vintage circus idea. Several sideshow entertainers performed. Sheheraz’Odd, who has been performing for ten years, swallowed a sword that was 2 feet long. She said she is one of only 20 female sword-swallowers in the world.
“One of the reasons people like the gala so much is the candidate component, where business leaders in our community are out there campaigning for several months and raising money,” Coffee said. The twelve candidates raised thousands of dollars for the ADA.
Diabetes is a serious and increasingly common disease in which blood sugar levels are above normal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ADA estimates that 235,000 Arkansans have diabetes.
The Kiss a Pig gala is one of the biggest ADA events in the nation.
“People wonder what we’re doing down here in Arkansas,” Coffee said.
The organization meets the Better Business Bureau’s charity accountability standards.
The City Wire was a media sponsor of the event.