Voluntary Action Center celebrates 50 years of community service in DeKalb County

Nonprofit services transportation, food delivery needs for area residents and across multiple counties

Volunteers Chris Sauter (right) and Stephanie Barring, (second from right) both from DeKalb, pick up a Meals on Wheels delivery to distribute Tuesday, April 23, 2024, at the Voluntary Action Center in Sycamore. VAC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

SYCAMORE – A DeKalb County nonprofit that provides hot meals to the needy, nutrition programs for day cares and transportation for those without it is turning 50 this year.

The Voluntary Action Center, 1606 Bethany Road in Sycamore, started in 1974 as a volunteer clearing house. After refining its focus and mission, the organization has morphed into one of the most tenured volunteer organizations in DeKalb County.

COO Nate Kloster said it’s an honor to lead the organization as it completes its fifth decade in 2024.

He said he first heard about the nonprofit about 20 years ago while he was a Kishwaukee United Way board member.

“Since then, I’ve had a real high respect for what this organization does,” Kloster said.

The Voluntary Action Center, commonly referred to as VAC, has two main focuses: transportation and nutrition. It provides transit services for rural DeKalb County – everything outside of DeKalb, Sycamore and Cortland. The bus services often are geared toward residents older than 55 and those with disabilities.

The general public can use the service, as well, Kloster said. The center’s support also can provide relief to caregivers.

“Our desire is to really help, and our focus is intentional about seniors and those with disabilities. and folks that don’t have access to transportation or needs the services of a lift or assistance getting on and off the vehicle. We do a lot of work with folks that go to dialysis, for example, every week. So we kind of relieve the family member from having to get them to the appointment,” Kloster said.

In its first year in 1975, the VAC provided 7,111 rides in its first year offering transportation services, said Cami Loving, marketing and outreach manager.

I think VAC provides a very, very needed service for this county.”

—  Neil VanOstrand

That service would expand into Sandwich three years later. The VAC’s other flagship program, Meals on Wheels – which bring hot meals directly to those without them – began in 1987, Loving said.

The expansion of services didn’t stop then, however.

After opening its transit facility in 1988 and kitchen in 1991 in Sycamore, VAC expanded its Meals on Wheels program into LaSalle, Bureau and Putnam counties in 2003. In 2010, transportation services were extended into Kendall County, Loving said.

Loving said she appreciates VAC’s refined focus.

“I have worked in the nonprofit world for several years now, and I think what really resonates for me when it comes to this nonprofit is the focus on the two programs. The focus on finding the money and volunteers, and putting forth the efforts in two programs without trying to muddy the waters with chasing money to try this to see if it sticks to the wall type of thing.”

Neil VanOstrand, 71, does more than simply volunteer for the VAC – he has been one of the center’s transportation drivers for the past seven years.

“I think VAC provides a very, very needed service for this county,” VanOstrand said.

VanOstrand said he retired early but still was itching to be productive, so he figured working for the VAC would allow him to enjoy how he spends the day.

“That’s one thing I like – I can help people,” VanOstrand said. “I can help them, get them to the doctor or the grocery store or someone we take to work. And then we take a lot of Kish kids back and forth – and I like driving.”

VanOstrand said he prides himself on getting his passengers to their destination safely, regardless of the weather, and he’s learned to take his time and not be in a hurry when snow is falling.

“On the snowstorms or the real bad days, I feel very happy that I got the person to their destination with no injuries or accidents, or anything like that,” VanOstrand said. “That’s what I try to pride myself on. I got people safely and nobody got hurt, and no accidents. I know that’s sounds kind of corny, but that’s what I like.”

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