Omaha family feeds hundreds on Thanksgiving to ‘pay it forward’

A family pays it forward on Thanksgiving
Published: Nov. 24, 2022 at 10:50 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Putting food on the table for Thanksgiving can be a daunting task for many families, but a metro man has made it his mission to help those who may find themselves in a tough spot.

Each year on Thanksgiving, Rob and Katie Patterson, who got married three years ago, help feed other families.

“At times we all need help, no matter how strong you are. No matter how great you are, we all need a little bit of help sometimes,” Rob says.

It all started about eight years ago - Rob found himself in a tough spot.

“When I became a single father of my two youngest children, and I had so many people reach out to me and help me, with a meal for that year, that I literally had like, food for like months.”

Since that day, he made a promise to himself to be a resource for others. Especially single fathers, at-risk men, and families.

“I didn’t understand the first thing about being a single parent, and so there were a lot of people that gave me guidance and direction on how to get your kids’ social security cards, how to get them enrolled in school,” he says.

He started his mission with Thanksgiving meals, to pay it forward to those who helped him when he was down on his luck.

Rob also chose to start with Thanksgiving meals as a homage to his childhood, where he describes his family as working poor. His parents worked hard to make Thanksgiving special.

“No matter how rough things had been, or whatever had happened, I always knew that we would always have like, it would be a feast, we would eat like kings that day,” he says. “Some of the fondest memories I have as a kid is me sneaking out of my room at 2 a.m. and checking the pots to see what my moms got cooking overnight. As you get older, I know how comforting those smells and those memories made me feel back then.”

His goal is to give that feeling to others on Thanksgiving, by giving them everything they need to make a hearty meal. He’s been doing it now for eight years.

“The next year I helped one family, the year after that it was two, and it’s just kind of doubled year after year,” he says. “Where this year, approximately 325 people will be able to enjoy a good meal for Thanksgiving.”

It’s not just in Omaha, either.

Rob grew up in Lincoln but lives with his newly-blended family in Omaha.

This year in Lincoln, the two held a community dinner, instead of passing out meal kits.

“One of the goals of that was that there’s a lot of people you might be next to at the grocery store or stoplight whatever and you don’t think about them, but that same person might have walked in and they were a stranger when they walked into that community dinner and sat down, talked and make connections,” Katie says. “They heard everyone’s stories whether they’re old, young, rich or poor, and that was really cool, and a cool concept to me when Rob presented that this year.”

In between full-time jobs, eight kids, and two but soon-to-be three grandkids, Katie and Rob are now feeding hundreds, all because Rob wanted to pay it forward all those years ago.

They say none of it would be possible without the help of community members, who have donated time, money, and food to make the mission a reality.

“You know some people say we live in troubled times now, but there are still so many people that are willing to help.”

From his simple goal of helping others, Rob and Katie’s non-profit, Project Prodigal, was born.

The new organization seeks to do much more than just provide Thanksgiving meals, though. They’re hoping to be a resource for anyone struggling all year round, “encouraging healing while providing paths to becoming whole,” as their mission states.

This Christmas, they’re asking for toy and food donations to help struggling families, too.

For information on how to get involved, updates are posted on Project Prodigal’s Facebook page.