In a decades-long tradition, 80-year-old ‘Mr. Thanksgiving’ hosts a holiday feast for thousands.

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In a decades-long tradition, 80-year-old ‘Mr. Thanksgiving’ hosts a holiday feast for thousands.

Bob Vogelbaugh, 80, has sponsored a free turkey dinner for thousands of individuals in the Moline, Illinois community for decades.

According to the Washington Post, this Thursday will be the 51st year that Vogelbaugh and a team of volunteers will prepare a feast of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, rolls, green bean casseroles, and pumpkin pie to for the nearly 3,000 locals who attend each year.

The tradition began in 1970, when Vogelbaugh, then the owner of a small grocery shop in Moline, realized that one of his customers, 91-year-old Rose Hanson, would be spending Thanksgiving alone. Vogelbaugh was so saddened by the news that he decided to invite Hanson and a few others to a little holiday supper in the back of his store.

Vogelbaugh told the Post, “I set up a table and some folding chairs, put up some decorations, and roasted a turkey with all the trimmings, and we had a great dinner with nine people.” That first Thanksgiving, though Vogelbaugh didn’t realize it at the time, became the start of a decades-long ritual that Moline residents have grown to expect.

Vogelbaugh said he didn’t mean for the dinner to become an annual tradition, but after learning that Hanson died just before Christmas the year of the first dinner, he wanted to keep it going.

“I had assumed this would be a one-time event, but Rose changed my mind,” Vogelbaugh said. “I didn’t want anybody to be alone,” she explained. For the next eight years, Vogelbaugh hosted the dinners at his grocery shop, then shifted the practice to the local YWCA. According to the Post, the holiday feasts grew in size and breadth over time, and Vogelbaugh invited anybody in Moline to join him for the meal.

“This is a communal event, not a charity meal,” Vogelbaugh said. “We’ve worked with millionaires, low-income families, and everyone in between. Anyone is welcome – and I mean anyone.” The customary supper has been held in the SouthPark Mall in recent years, with the support of the Hy-Vee grocery chain and hundreds of community volunteers. Moline residents pitch in to raise enough money to cover the bills, raising more than $100,000 in the process. This is a condensed version of the information.

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