‘Mr. Thanksgiving’ pulls off annual dinner in midst of pandemic
Bob Vogelbaugh stood in the parking lot of SouthPark Mall in Moline waving to the people in their vehicles that were lined up for what was supposed to be the 50th anniversary of the annual Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the man who has come to be known as “Mr. Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Vogelbaugh said to the people as he donned his facemask and his “Mr. Thanksgiving” cap. One man got out of his vehicle and came over and shook Vogelbaugh’s gloved hand and thanked him for pulling off this year’s dinner.
“It was all of us who pulled it off,” Vogelbaugh said, adding that the volunteers and Hy-Vee all came through.
Vogelbaugh, 80, reiterated that this year’s dinner he is calling “49 ½, because this was supposed to be my golden year and this isn’t very golden.”
But he and the volunteers were not going to be denied. There were people outside of the mall at 10 a.m. when he arrived. “I had to tell them that it didn’t start until 4,” Vogelbaugh said. And come early the people did.
Volunteer Bill Burrus helped direct the vehicles as they came into the parking lot.
“I got here at 3, I got here early and the lot at JC Penney was already full and was just starting snake across the front of Von Maur,” Burrus said. “I was told to be here at 3:30. I should have gotten here at 1.”
Burrus said he began helping Vogelbaugh 15 years ago and the event has grown every year. “My wife said there probably wouldn’t be very many people this year. It looks like we’ll be giving away 3,000 meals.”
Burrus and the other volunteers said that everyone waiting has been friendly and patient. Many could be seen watching their phones or iPads as they waited.
For some, this was the first time coming to the annual event.
John Buckwalter and his father, Buck, waited in line to place their order. It was the first time they’ve been to the event.
“I wasn’t sure,” John Buckwalter said when asked if he was surprised the event was still going on. “I’ve never been down here before. We didn’t want to get together with the family so we thought we’d try this instead.”
Vogelbaugh said that a number of people were coming for the first time due to the pandemic.
“I knew that it had to go somehow,” he said. “There are a lot of people coming for the first time because they couldn’t have the family over. It’s amazing. I’m so pleased that people feel comfortable coming, and thank you God for shutting off the rain and it turned out to be such a beautiful day and I couldn’t ask for a better day.
Volunteers at the distributing area walked up to vehicles and asked how many meals were needed. The numbers were passed back to the people doing the packing.
Tim Cernin of Hy-Vee was part of the line putting the dinners into Styrofoam boxes.
“We brought enough meals to serve 2,750 people,” Cernin said.
“When we came in and saw the line that already had formed we knew it was going to be a good day and we were at the right place at the right time for the right reason. It’s been just tremendous.”
Nate and Brian Dennis of Carbon Cliff waited patiently for their turn in line. Asked if they thought there would be an event this year, Brian spoke for probably everyone waiting in line for a meal when he said, “With Mr. Vogelbaugh involved, we knew it would happen.”
Next year, though, Vogelbaugh said the real 50th event will go on.
“I want the 50th in there so we can dance and everything else,” he said, pointing to the area of SouthPark Mall where the event is usually held.
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