Taste of DeKalb raises funds in support of community grant

Open Door Coffee parks their truck for Taste of DeKalb Sunday in Frank Van Buer Plaza, 148-198 N. Second St., in downtown DeKalb.

By Dan Doren

Even as rain drizzled down, there was an abundance of smiles at the 2019 Taste of DeKalb. At the admission-free event, which took place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Frank Van Buer Plaza, attendees purchased food and beverages from local restaurant vendors while enjoying live entertainment.

The Kishwaukee Sunrise Rotary Club, a chapter of Rotary International serving the northern DeKalb County area, hosted the event. Funds were raised primarily from sponsors, and will be used to support the annual $10,000 Rotary Community Grant for Children, Youth and Families of DeKalb County.

“It’s a competitive grant that any nonprofit in DeKalb County can apply for,” Rotary Club Treasurer Gip Seaver said. “Over the last three years, we’ve donated $30,000 to help children, youth and families in DeKalb County.”

The biggest sponsors of the event were First National Bank, Resource Bank, State Farm, the NIU Board of Trustees and DeKalb residents John and Laurie Jencks; each contributed between $1,000 and $2,999 in funding.

Among those present at the event were Nina’s Tacos, whose menu features Hawaiian-style tacos with bacon, pineapple and melted cheese, and Fatty’s Catering Group, which sold beer and hard seltzer.

Betty Jean’s Soul Food Diner, which opened in Sycamore last year, also set up a station. Andre Allen, of DeKalb, was there to volunteer for his uncle’s restaurant, which is named after his uncle’s deceased mother.

“He’d actually been cooking for a long time, I think since he was 5 years old,” Allen said of his uncle. “He always wanted to have a restaurant but, at the same time, he’s a pastor. So, he had to find [the] time.”

St. George Greek Orthodox Church, located in DeKalb, was there selling chicken kebabs. Parish Council President Kristina Karkavatsos, of Sycamore, commented on the church’s involvement with food in the community.

“We do our annual Greek Fest, which is always the last weekend in June,” she said. “And then we also do what’s called an agape dinner for those less fortunate, where we have tickets that are available at Hope Haven and the food pantry for a free meal at our church.”

Potted mums and other flora were also sold at the event by DeKalb County Community Gardens, a nonprofit organization that aims to end hunger and food insecurity in DeKalb County. Community Gardens Board Member Moria Nagy, of DeKalb, explained the importance of the organization’s efforts in providing training for individuals with special needs.

“It’s very hard for individuals, especially when they graduate from the high school system, to get jobs,” she said. “So we’re training them in horticultural skills. And, at the farm, they work with our volunteers and employees, and many of our participants actually get jobs in the agricultural industry, which is really fantastic for them.”

The event immediately followed the DeKalb Corn Classic 5K and 10K, an annual event where runners register to race on a designated course that begins and ends downtown, and some of the participants headed over to the Taste of DeKalb for fun after their run. Among them was Karen Kasperski, of Peru, who attended the event with friends.

“We’re from Starved Rock Runners and [my friends have] all done it before, so this was my first time,” she said of the 10K. When asked about the food she and her friends sampled, her response was: “Oh my god, it was amazing.”

Food tents and trucks were set up along the perimeter of the lot, and attendees could eat while standing up, walking around or seated at one of the picnic tables in the middle of the space. One corner was occupied by a stage for musical guests and another had a bouncy house and slide available for children.

Live entertainment was provided by the Wild Blue Ukulele Orchestra, folk singer-songwriter Joe Jencks, local country band Back Country Roads and the DeKalb High School Jazz Band.