Senior National Editor
Just before Thanksgiving last year, I wrote about the struggles of the River Valley Regional Food Bank in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to meet growing demands for help.
In that article I mentioned the “baloney sandwich index” created by Ken Kupchick, the marketing and development director of the food bank, to measure the rise and fall of need in the eight-county area of West Central Arkansas it serves. The index is named for a staple in the meals served by a small soup kitchen the food bank operates in downtown Fort Smith, whose mission is “to serve a simple lunch to the homeless while respecting their dignity,” according to Kupchick.
The recipe, according to Kupchick, is simple: “Pulled from the retail shelves donated white bread, mustard no mayo (mayo is too expensive) and one slice of bologna, no cheese.” On occasion, the food bank substitute peanut butter-and-jelly and on some Fridays a tuna sandwich is available. Kupchick noted with pride volunteers who spend their own money to provide a once-a-month alternative of a pulled pork or brisket sandwich, while a local restaurant has supplemented the meal with a weekly offering of soup.
Until 2008, when the recession hit, the kitchen served 2,500-3,000 bagged lunches a month. “We were astounded when the number jumped to 4,000,” Kupchick said.
Kupchick was curious about the trend line so he gathered figures dating back to 2003. He factored in unemployment reports for Fort Smith and surrounding Sebastian County and the “baloney sandwich index” was born.
Six months later I’ve heard again from Kupchick and the outlook from Fort Smith is gloomy.