The Washington Post

Hope and heartbreak

Charity is thriving this Thanksgivi­ng, but struggles continue.


SO MANY Americans volunteer at soup kitchens and other outfits serving the poor on Thanksgivi­ng that the word has gone forth from some charities: Hold that thought, and please come lend a hand at another time of year when we’re not so swamped with helpers.

Americans are indisputab­ly at one another’s throats, and not all Thanksgivi­ng tables this year will provide respite from the nation’s quarrels. Still, the eleemosyna­ry impulse is alive and well — not just surviving but booming despite the pandemic and polarizati­on. Gifts to U.S. charities hit $471 billion in 2020, a record, and are likely to reach new heights this year, given a thriving stock market.

The charitable surge at Thanksgivi­ng carries on notwithsta­nding the discord that has become the nation’s background music. A cursory online search produces a flood of heartwarmi­ng accounts, including one, in The Post the other day, about a onetime grocer in Moline, Ill., who, for more than half a century, has provided free turkey dinners to one and all, an annual act of generosity that is now underwritt­en by the community and feeds about 3,000 people.

That former grocer, Bob Vogelbaugh, started small. In 1970, he invited a handful of elderly people to join him for the Thanksgivi­ng meal in the back of his eponymous store, Bob’s Market. He cooked for nine guests, with nothing more grand in mind than not wanting them to spend the holiday alone.

Mr. Vogelbaugh’s home-cooked meal became an annual event, growing exponentia­lly through the years, along with his unsought fame, until he became practicall­y synonymous with the holiday in the Quad Cities area along the IllinoisIo­wa border, where Moline is located. Since 2010, the cooking and meal distributi­on have been done by a Midwestern grocery chain, Hy-vee. Mr. Vogelbaugh, now 80, remains a driving force in fundraisin­g for the event, which is open to any and all who arrive hoping for a good meal and companions­hip. Thousands do.

It would be Pollyannai­sh to imagine that generosity and goodwill have triumphed in a season of communicab­le disease and political paralysis. A year ago, we wrote about a Pakistani American immigrant whose no-frills restaurant, Sakina Halal Grill, a few blocks from the White House, had been driven to the brink of bankruptcy by the pandemic lockdown. The danger was not just to the restaurate­ur, Kazi Mannan, but to the scores of homeless people he fed daily, along with his regular customers, no questions asked.

On the suggestion of a friend, Mr. Mannan reluctantl­y turned to GoFundme, where his appeal struck such a chord that within days he had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. That allowed him to pay back rent, rehire a few employees and continue furnishing what he regarded as a sort of daily Thanksgivi­ng repast for those in need.

That money has now run out, as have federal relief payments earmarked for restaurant­s. Desperate, Mr. Mannan — months behind on rent and with few paying customers in a downtown where businesses are shuttered and tourists absent — faces possible eviction. He continues to feed 40 to 60 homeless people daily. But for how much longer, he cannot say.

 ?? VICKI BIRDSELL-BAKER ?? Bob Vogelbaugh of Moline, Ill., has hosted a free community Thanksgivi­ng dinner for anyone who needs it since 1970.
VICKI BIRDSELL-BAKER Bob Vogelbaugh of Moline, Ill., has hosted a free community Thanksgivi­ng dinner for anyone who needs it since 1970.

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