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Voluntary Action Center serves DeKalb County Jail inmates for 20 years

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 11:36 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 11:52 p.m. CDT
(Monica Maschak -
Catering Chef Seth Deathrage puts chicken in the oven Feb 19 at the Voluntary Action Center. Deathrage and three other chefs make dinners for the inmates at the DeKalb County Jail everyday.

SYCAMORE – Bethany Rowan, DeKalb County Sheriff’s corrections deputy, said inmates at the DeKalb County Jail are a little spoiled when it comes to their food.

“A lot of other jails don’t have as much variety on food,” Rowan said.

The Voluntary Action Center has been providing all the meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – for the jail since 1994. Before then, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s wife cooked the meals at the jail.

Now, VAC transports about 250 meals a day to feed inmates, which is fewer meals than they used to provide since inmates are being held in other county jails, said Ellen Rogers, VAC associate director.

VAC employees cook the food and drive it to the jail, where deputies distribute it to each cell block. VAC has a contract with the sheriff’s office that is adjusted annually according to the cost of meals. The sheriff’s office has budgeted $194,000 for next year’s food service, but that number could increase if the jail population increases, DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott.

VAC has remained fair pricewise over the years considering the service they provide, Scott said. Costs so far for 2014 are $2.70 an inmate for lunches and dinners, and $2.16 an inmate for breakfast.

In 1995, breakfast cost $1.20 an inmate, lunch was $1.70 and dinner was $1.55.

VAC also provides meals for seniors and the disabled through its Meals on Wheels program.

“I thought if the food is good enough for seniors, then it should be more than good enough for our inmates,” Scott said.

Inmates are served breakfast at 6:30 a.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner at 4:30 p.m. Food has to meet state standards, which includes providing one hot meal every day, providing between 1,800 to 2,000 calories for adults each day, and having meals available for those with special diets because of health conditions such as diabetes.

Nutritional standards include having the food look pleasing to the eye, said DeKalb County Sheriff’s Lt. Joyce Klein.

“Food is important to inmates,” Klein said. “There’s not many things they have in jail. When any of their rights cause them to be upset, it can become a problem very quickly.”

Inmates have complained very little about jail food, deputies said. Perhaps one of their only complaints are if there is a sudden influx of inmates, deputies must scramble to serve meals, said Craig Malone, DeKalb County Sheriff’s corrections sergeant.

The jail holds about 90 inmates at a time, Malone said.

There are occasions when inmates being held in other jails because of jail overcrowing eat a meal at DeKalb County Jail because they have court in DeKalb County. In those cases, deputies communicate quickly with VAC to make sure everyone is fed, Malone said.

“Much of VAC’s staff is treated like our own,” said Tim Smith, sheriff’s corrections deputy.

Sheriff’s deputies also eat the food from time to time.

“It’s not bad,” Rowan said. “It’s not great, but it’s pretty good food.”

What do inmates eat?

VAC’s food service to the jail tends to be on a rotated menu. For cold suppers, inmates get a sandwich, salad and possibly chips and fruit. For lunches, VAC typically provides meat, vegetables and milk.

Source: Ellen Rogers, VAC associate director

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