After over a decade of fighting food insecurity, Kupchick says goodbye to Antioch

Catherine Nolte
Fort Smith Times Record

When you ask about Ken Kupchick around Fort Smith, one theme is often repeated — gratitude.

"I was at the sack lunch program, and he came and knocked on the door. He said he could help me," Jean Kollejski, co-director of the Sack Lunch Program, said. "I didn't know who he was, but he knew how to get supplies and services to feed people in Fort Smith ... and I learned tremendously from him." 

"Ken will be greatly missed in our volunteer community. He has spent so many years dedicating himself to the needs of the lower-income and food-insecure populations in our community," Sharon Chapman, executive director of The Next Step Homeless Services, said. 

For over a decade, Kupchick has fought against hunger in the River Valley. He spent six years as the director of marketing and development for the River Valley Regional Food Bank and five years as a consultant with Antioch for Youth & Family. 

Kupchick said when he started at the food bank, they were distributing 3.5 million pounds of food per year, which grew to 11 million pounds during his time there. When he started working with Antioch, they were assisting 1,500 families a month, and now that number has grown to more than 30,000.

Ken Kupchick, center, stands with Fort Smith Police officers Ryan Arritt and Robin Shoptaw, former Sebastian County Circuit Judge Jim Spears, Zena Featherston Marshall of the Fort Smith School District, Tracy Engel of the River Valley Regional Food Bank, Sharon Chapman of Next Step Homeless Services, and Jean Kolljeski of Sack Lunch Program during a farewell party at Antioch for Youth & Family on July 13.

"I feel that I've been an integral part of the growth of both of those organizations, and I think it's time for someone else to pick up the torch," Kupchick said.

"I can tell you that when he's retired, we will feel the impact of him not being around any more... He gives 100% on fighting hunger, and he really, truly cares about the community," Tracy Engel, director of the River Valley Regional Food Bank, said.

To celebrate Kupchick's retirement and thank him for his dedication to the community, Antioch hosted a surprise party on July 13. Community leaders and organizers stopped by to congratulate Kupchick.

Faith Forte, a volunteer with Antioch, shared how Kupchick helped put the nonprofit on the national stage by promoting the work of founder and executive director Charolette Tidwell.

Through Kupchick's efforts, Tidwell and Antioch have been featured on national media outlets including National Geographic, the Huffington Post, and the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Tidwell has also received national recognition as a Women of Worth by L'Oreal Paris, and her smile was featured on bags of chips in a Frito-Lay promotion. 

"I am a believer in honoring those that honor others ... He has helped with food insecurities, procuring food for the River Valley Regional Foodbank and also helping to open this facility," Tidwell said. 

Ken Kupchick smiles as Antioch for Youth & Family volunteers and other community members surprise him with a farewell party on July 13.

After outgrowing their previous location on North 11th Street, Antioch relocated to the former River Valley Regional Food Bank building on North 32nd Street. Following renovations, the new 10,000-square-foot facility opened in 2018.

With this chapter coming to a close, Kupchick plans to return to Delaware to spend some time with his mother, who he hasn't seen since before the coronavirus pandemic began.

"She's in good health, mobility issues, but very good health and extremely good spirits. But I want to be in a position where I can drop everything and run should she need me," Kupchick said. 

"We all owe it to our hometowns to either support them financially or with our time and talent," Kupchick said. "I hope that someone will come through and do that because, obviously, the need remains. We need to focus on not being hamsters on a wheel but become solution-driven."

Catherine Nolte is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She can be reached at cnolte@swtimes.com.