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Fans camp out for new Chick-Fil-A in Camden
Stephen Murphy
Stephen Murphy was one of the few local residents at Chick-Fil-A's event; he was tagged No. 37 among the "First 100." - photo by Fraser Speaks

Twenty-four hours before the doors even opened at 6 a.m. Thursday, more than 225 people began camping out on the grounds of the new Chick-Fil-A. They did so in the hopes of being chosen as one of 100 special Chick-Fil-A fans. It’s an event that has become a Chick-Fil-A tradition across the country. Beginning Wednesday at 6 a.m. anyone 18 and over had the opportunity to vie for 100 spots that would earn them a free meal each week for a year.

The only catch? Participants chosen as one of the coveted 100 were not allowed to leave the designated area until the Thursday’s public grand opening.

Folks from as far away as Texas crowded the parking lot bright and early Wednesday to try and get their spot as one of the “First 100.” Those gathered brought with them tents, family, friends and card and board games.

The man chosen as lucky No. 1 was Greg O’Donnell of Greenville. While it might have been O’Donnell’s first time chosen first, it’s not his first “Free 100” event. In fact, Camden’s Chick-Fil-A opening was his 66th such event. O’Donnell said he has traveled as far away as Oklahoma City for a chance at winning free chicken for a year.

“It’s almost like a family reunion when you go to these events,” O’Donnell said. “You look around to see who you recognize because a lot of us end up at the same ones.”

O’Donnell said his favorite part is seeing familiar faces and making new friends. His favorite part of Camden’s event?

“Having my name called out first! It was the best feeling and you just feel this sense of relief and accomplishment,” he said.

O’Donnell said that the most participants he’s probably seen at a “Free 100” event is somewhere around 450 people.

Though there were many from out of the community at Chick-Fil-A for those 24 hours, some local fans were there as well and made their way into the chosen 100.

Former Camden High School athletic trainer Stephen Murphy was the first local participant called into the “Free 100” as No. 37. Murphy is no stranger to Chick-Fil-A, however. He spent six years in high school and college working for the franchise, though this was his first time participating in the “Free 100” event.

“I think it’s good for the city to get this exposure, especially for the best fast food establishment,” Murphy said.

Murphy said his favorite part of the event was getting to meet people and seeing what he referred to as “big world connections in a small town.”

One of the new friends Murphy met at the event was a student who attends and plays basketball at Ben Lippen School, the school Murphy will be continuing his career at in the fall.

Out of all the campers awaiting the chance at free food, Murphy said the most interesting and unique thing he saw was a man dressed up in a cow suit that was not the Chick-Fil-A mascot. Murphy said the man was not connected or working for the franchise in any way but was just wearing a cow suit.

Murphy also said he would definitely participate in another “Free 100” event.

All 100 spots were determined by a raffle and were also provided breakfast, lunch and dinner by the franchise. There were also outlets available for campers, a DJ in the evening as well as scheduled games and activities for entertainment throughout the event.