Bob Vogelbaugh is known around Moline, Illinois, as “Mr. Thanksgiving,” and for good reason — since 1970, he has organized community dinners on Thanksgiving for anyone who wants to break bread and celebrate the holiday. Vogelbaugh used to own a grocery store called Bob’s Market, and when he learned that 91-year-old customer Rose Hanson had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, he quickly set up a dinner for her and eight other elderly people he knew, serving turkey and the trimmings in the back of his store.
Hanson died just a few weeks later, and Vogelbaugh said he initially thought it would be a one-time only thing, but Rose changed that. “I didn’t want people to be alone” he said. The dinner grew every year, and has changed venues to accommodate more people. For the last 30 years, Vogelbaugh and volunteers have been holding the feast at SouthPark Mall, with thousands of people typically showing up.
Every year, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, Vogelbaugh hosts a free Thanksgiving dinner. “It’s not a charity dinner, it’s a community dinner” he said. “It’s just a Thanksgiving gathering of friends and people you don’t know and some people have become friends through this over the years.” Vogelbaugh is retired from the grocery business, and now focuses on fundraising throughout the year to pay for the dinner. “I used to have a live band and then there was dancing. Then I went to a DJ, and so it was really a Thanksgiving party,” he said of previous years.
The past two years with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Vogelbaugh kept his tradition going but switched things up. Instead of hosting a seated dinner, Vogelbaugh and his volunteers set enough for people last year with many families not getting together because of the COVID outbrup tables outside so people could drive over and pick up meals. “I figured that it was hard eak and stuff, and so I thought we’re gonna go ahead and we’ll do a drive by,” he said.