Food needs push Baloney Sandwich Index higher

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 116 views 

The October Baloney Sandwich Index (BSI) predicts a Fort Smith area jobless rate increase when the September and October metro jobless rates are released on Dec. 9.

October’s BSI rose to 166.1 from 140.8 in September.

The August BSI predicted a slight increase, but the jobless rate fell to 7.2% from a 7.6% rate in July. However, the August jobless rate decline was more a function of the workforce number than an overall improvement in the jobs market.

The size of the Fort Smith regional workforce during August was 132,814, down from the 133,352 during July, and below the 133,378 during August 2012. The labor force reached a revised high of 140,253 in July 2007.

Ken Kupchick, author of the index and director of marketing and development for the River Valley Regional Food Bank, says the index has an almost 70% correlation with Sebastian County unemployment numbers. He 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.

The sack lunch program began in 1986 by the church, located in downtown Fort Smith, to help the homeless. The handful of volunteers that began the program has grown to an estimated 125 volunteers who now support the effort.

The index declined in 2013 because officials at St. John’s changed the policy to serving just one meal per person. Because of the long-term unemployment in the Fort Smith area, program volunteers provided extra meals to those who requested them. The extra meals were included in the index count. 

“Last October, the need had peaked to the point where record numbers of sack lunches in August (5,957) and October (5,713) to the point where requests for multiple lunches required implementing a new ruling to only provide another sandwich when requests for more food were received,” Kupchick explained. “The October 2013 lunches were the highest recorded number of lunch requests since that change was implemented.”
During October 2013, the church provided 4,902 sack lunches, down from the 5,713 in October 2012, down from 5,405 lunches served during October 2011, and up from the 3,835 served during October 2010.

The average number of lunches served each month reached a high of 5,017 during 2012. The monthly average was 4,249 in 2011, 3,316 in 2010 and 3,448 in 2009.

"Food pantries are starting to buckle. Each has only a certain level of support to give the community. Some are reducing the amounts of food they give. Others are reducing their hours. We've even had closures. Those with the ability to give to help are asked to help local food pantries with food, funds or volunteer help,” Kupchick noted.

The need is recognized by those outside the food support sector.

Arvest Bank announced Nov. 15 that its customers and employees raised more than 1.8 million meals through its 1 Million Meals effort.

“The success of the campaign comes just in time to help local food banks and hunger organizations meet their increased needs during the holiday season.” noted an Arvest statement.

The drive also provided funds for local food support groups, including a more than $12,000 donation to the Community Services Clearinghouse.

In Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley, Arvest partnered with 18 food partners for the campaign. The organizations will receive all donations from their local area, and this year 706,623 total meals were provided in overall in Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith region.