Funding cuts end VAC’s free community dinner program

SYCAMORE – Due to reductions in funding, Voluntary Action Center in Sycamore has discontinued its free community dinners while maintaining its core programs.

The community dinners were held on the first, third and fifth Wednesdays of each month and were open to anyone in DeKalb County regardless of income. An average of 85 residents took advantage of the community dinners to eat a variety of nutritious foods, said VAC associate director Ellen Rogers.

"This isn't just about VAC losing money," Rogers said. "We felt with some of the money we lost, we needed to look at what our core programs are: It's Meals On Wheels, senior program summer meals and programs for children."

Meals On Wheels serves about 275 people a day, while transportation services such as TransVac provide over 6,000 rides a month. Last year, VAC also provided 23,000 summer meals.

Many sponsors who funded the community dinners, which cost $250 per Wednesday, reduced their funding over the years, Rogers said. Community dinner sponsors included B95, Unitarian Universalist Church, United Way and DeKalb Elks.

Some sponsors continue to support VAC with other programs such as Meals on Wheels, Rogers said. Donations and sponsorships account for about 13 percent of VAC'S funding. VAC's overall annual budget is $3.9 million, and the nutrition budget is $1.5 million.

The community dinners began in July 2009 when President Barack Obama introduced his stimulus plan to improve the economy and increase spending. VAC received about $5,000 from the stimulus package, Rogers said.

When the stimulus money ran out in October 2009, the community dinners were entirely privately funded.

Residents who ate at the community dinners can still take advantage of other meals offered at low to no cost. Feed 'Em Soup, 122 S. First St. in DeKalb, offers pay-what-you-can brunches and dinners from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.

Still, VAC community dinners ending was sad for some involved in the process. VAC nutrition coordinator Leah Jordal created community dinner menus and sent out flyers.

Jordal said the community dinners were a welcoming place for people to eat nutritious food such as chicken, turkey and beef, and meet new people.

"It was just a place for people to talk to other people and get a meal," she said. "It's sad, but hopefully it provided people with some food security during that time. It's good to know that it did help people."

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