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Opinion Amid much heartbreak, we also have reason for hope this Thanksgiving

Bob Vogelbaugh, known as “Mr. Thanksgiving,” on his front porch in Moline, Ill. (Vicki Birdsell-Baker)

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 booming 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.

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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 City area along the Illinois-Iowa border, where Moline is located. Since 2010, the cooking and meal distribution has been done by a Midwestern grocery chain, Hy-Vee. Mr. Vogelbaugh, now 80 years old, 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.

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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.

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Editorials represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Deputy Editorial Page Editor Karen Tumulty; Deputy Editorial Page Editor Ruth Marcus; Associate Editorial Page Editor Jo-Ann Armao (education, D.C. affairs); Jonathan Capehart (national politics); Lee Hockstader (immigration; issues affecting Virginia and Maryland); David E. Hoffman (global public health); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Molly Roberts (technology and society); and Stephen Stromberg (elections, the White House, Congress, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care).

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