It may not be the index a typical economist would create or quote, but Ken Kupchick is hopeful his Baloney Sandwich Index will numerically demonstrate the rising impact of persistent high unemployment in the Fort Smith region.
The seasonally adjusted BSI for October is 183.2, well above the 130 in October 2010, the 122.9 in October 2009 and the 107.6 in October 2008.
Kupchick, director of marketing and development for the River Valley Regional Food Bank, uses three numbers to compute the BSI: the number of sack lunches served by the St. John’s Episcopal Church sack lunch program, the Sebastian County jobless rate and the Fort Smith metro jobless rate. He uses a commonly accepted method to adjust for seasonality.
The index, produced recently, goes back to September 2003.
LEGION OF SUPPORT
According to notes from Kupchick, the lunch program began in 1986 when Mary Wise noticed a gathering of homeless near the downtown Fort Smith church (215 N. Sixth St.). That first lunch was prepared by a few volunteers and was a lunch sack filled with peanut butter crackers and Vienna sausages.
Some 25 years later, the the annual lunch count has grown to almost 40,000 lunches served in 2010. Also, the group of volunteers has risen to “a legion” of about 125 regular volunteers, Kupchick said.
While the number of lunches has increased, the lunch itself has remained simple. Kupchick provided the following detail on the process and the lunch ingredients:
• Each weekday morning and afternoon, anyone who comes to their Dutch door at 6th and B Streets gets a brown sack.
• Each sack typically contains a single-slice bologna white bread sandwich with mustard (mayonnaise is too expensive), a serving of fruit (a banana or one-quarter of an orange), one treat (animal crackers, vanilla wafers or a “Little Debbie) and a drink (generally shelf stable milk or fruit drink).
• Tom Caldarera (the Caldarera family owns restaurants Emmy’s and Taliano’s) makes soup twice a week to serve.
• One day a week the bologna is switched out for peanut butter and jelly; and on another day, tuna fish.
• A volunteer makes banana muffins once a week from overripe bananas garnered from the River Valley Regional Food Bank’s retail recovery program.
“It’s always been a frugal sack lunch. They aren’t encouraging them to come eat, but they are eating it because they have to,” Kupchick said.
Ling Ling Moorman and Debbie Ashworth often work to provide a menu variant for the Friday lunch. They recently worked up a large batch — about 50 pounds — of potato salad to go along with a hot dog lunch planned for about 200 homeless patrons.
“The last time we did this, I was peeling potatoes until midnight,” Moorman said in an interview with Kupchick.
The program, in terms of funding and demand, was relatively stable until 2009. During that year, demand jumped by 39%, according to Program Director Jean Kolljeski.
“I learned to expect a jump in demand at the end of each month on Tuesdays and Thursdays as peoples’ checks ran out,” Kolljeski said. “I also learned to expect a bump in the summertime.”
This summer the demand jumped by 50%, with Kolljeski noticing more children in the food line.
“We added fresh milk once a week because of the children,” Kolljeski explained. “Parents have actually come to the window and thanked us for giving their children milk. Imagine a thank you for something as simple as that.”
Kupchick says Judi Stillwell and Linda McDonough are “critical in the process of organizing volunteers, securing contributions, grant writing and sourcing.” The program, he explains, is run by an all-volunteer staff from an alliance of several churches, clubs, civic groups and dedicated individuals. Student groups and holiday help are always in need.
The fear is that the impact of Whirlpool layoffs that may begin in early 2012 will push demand for the sack lunch program beyond what are already unsustainable rates.
Funding, obviously, is the problem.
The program is on a pace to hand out more than 45,000 lunches. But the budget, which is a little less than $30,000 hasn’t changed from when the program handed out less than 40,000 lunches in 2010. “Generous donations” from Mrs. Baird’s bread company and McKesson Foods (Little Debbie) only go so far, Kupchick said.
The Fort Smith metro jobless rate began to tick higher in 2006 and 2007, moderated in 2008, but rose significantly higher in 2009 and 2010. The metro jobless rate rose to 8% during September.
“The question is, ‘With this kind of increased need, what’s it going to take for next year?’” Kupchick said.
Kupchick said funding will need to increase from the “amalgamation of area churches and individual donations” that have kept the program running for 25 years. He also said the River Valley Regional Food Bank will continue to purse “minor grants” and other efforts to provide more food to the program — while also trying to support the growing demand from another more than 200 agencies that receive food from the regional food bank.
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this article. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Some story info submitted by Ken Kupchick, director of marketing and development for the River Valley Regional Food Bank.