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Mr. Thanksgiving cannot bring himself to hang up his apron.

When the community dinner Bob Vogelbaugh hosts each year turned 40 last year, he threatened to turn the turkey over to somebody else. But he can't bring himself to do it.

"At last year's dinner, people came to me and said, ‘If it wasn't for this dinner, I would have no place to go,'" he said as he announced plans Thursday for this year's event. "If you're not affected by little kids tugging at your pant leg, thanking you, you have a heart of stone.

"There's no amount of money in the whole world that can give you what you get (from volunteering at the dinner). It's such a beautiful feeling."

Vogelbaugh, 71, has another reason for hosting the 41st free Thanksgiving dinner at SouthPark Mall in Moline: To honor one of the volunteers who had been with him since the beginning.

Richard Van Raes, longtime city planner for the City of East Moline, died Oct. 12.

"He would have been in his 40th year," Vogelbaugh said. "I'd like to dedicate this meal in his honor."

Thursday's announcement also served as a public plea for donations to make the Thanksgiving Day meal possible. The event's bank account contains about $1,200, but $16,000 is needed to feed the estimated 2,700 to 2,800 people who will be served a holiday meal.

Volunteers last year served about 2,500 meals, he said, which required about 2,200 pounds of turkey.

Vogelbaugh said the old days of volunteers helping to prepare much of the food are over. Two Moline Hy-Vee stores now prepare it, Taco John's is supplying soda-dispensing machines and Habanero's restaurant is donating the use of their coolers.

MetroLink is expected to deliver a couple hundred people who lack transportation and SouthPark Mall is once again providing the venue. From early planning to serving and cleaning up after last year's meal, Vogelbaugh estimates 400 volunteers made the event happen.

Asked whether he can have too many volunteers, he replied, "Absolutely not!

"There's not as much to do in the mornings now, but let me tell you: For some of the elderly, this is the social event of the year. You don't have to help. Just come and see. Just talk to them."

He said he "wasn't playing Brett Favre" when he said last year that he was considering stepping down as dinner host.

"Right now, I'm healthy, but I am getting older, so you never know," he said.

He also revealed that he is planning to write a book, along with longtime dinner co-host Vicki Birdsell-Baker, entitled "Talk Turkey." They intend to share the best of four decades' worth of stories from the dinner, donating the money to charity.

"God didn't give me much," he said, pulling off his hat to joke about his bald head. "But he gave me people skills. There is no way I can thank everybody."

As the tradition goes, however, he thanked his mother. She is 90.

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