Speed Reads

a thanksgiving tradition

For 51 years, this former grocer has hosted a free Thanksgiving feast for his community

There's always room at Bob Vogelbaugh's table.

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 told The Washington Post that he "initially thought this would be a one-time only thing, but Rose changed that. I didn't want people to be alone." The dinner grew every year, and has changed venues to accommodate more people. For the last 30 years, Vogelbaugh and several volunteers have been holding the feast at SouthPark Mall, with thousands of people typically showing up.

It's a "community dinner," Vogelbaugh said. "We've served millionaires, we've served families in need, and everyone in between. Anyone — and I do mean anyone — is welcome." Vogelbaugh is retired from the grocery business, and now focuses on fundraising throughout the year to pay for the dinner. Two Hy-Vee stores cook all of the food, which this year will be distributed in to-go containers because of COVID. Vogelbaugh expects about 3,200 meals will be served, and he told the Post "it makes me feel good to know that anyone who wants one can get a good Thanksgiving dinner."