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Customers rewarded for night of camping in parking lot
Tina Chance (left) and Gina Rae put up a tent in the Chick-fil-A parking lot at 9:15 p.m. March 27. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — After several years of anticipation, Effingham County’s hunger for a Chick-fil-A has finally been satisfied.

The fast-growing chain that specializes in chicken sandwiches and waffle fries opened a restaurant at 5438 Ga. Hwy 21 South on Thursday. 

 Nearly 100 chicken lovers couldn’t contain their excitement as they spent the previous night camping and playing games in the eatery’s parking lot. They were rewarded at 6 a.m. Thursday with gift cards for one Chick-fil-A Meal per week for a year, a value of more than $300.

Lilly Gaskin and Hannah Arrington joined the fun despite having to go to work early Thursday.

“We’re ready,” Gaskin said after helping Arrington shove an air mattress into their tent about three hours into the 12-hour campout. “We just need to sleep a little bit.”

Sleeping was likely a challenge because a microphone-weilding Chick-fil-A employee kept whipping teams of campers into a frenzy through a series of games.  

Gaskin and Arrington made the decision to participate in the campout at the last minute. 

“Actually, it was her idea,” Arrington said. “I mean I love Chick-fil-A but it was her idea.”

After learning that Chick-fil-A hadn’t reached its limit of 100 campers, Gaskin phoned Arrington and encouraged her to join the campout. Arrington said her friend isn’t always so persuasive.

“This doesn’t happen all the time,” Arrington said. “I don’t know why I let her convince this time but, so far, it’s not bad.”

Gaskin and Arrington’s tent didn’t feature a TV or heater like some of those nearby. Their conditions, however, weren’t nearly as Spartan as those endured by Jessica Russell, a wife and mother who didn’t even have a chair when the chilly campout started. Temperatures hovered in the mid-40s.

“Obviously, I didn’t come prepared,” Russell said with a laugh.

Russell’s husband and four children eventually brought her a chair and a sleeping bag.

“It’s just like Black Friday, only better,” Russell joked.

Gina Rae was really into the occasion. She was dressed like one of the cows Chick-fil-A uses in its advertisements. Her costume came from the Marching Mustang Invitational in which she and fellow camper Tina Chance performed.

“I was a llama and she was a cow,” Rae  said while struggling to put up a tent. “She wasn’t going to come tonight so that’s why I got her suit.”

Like Gaskin and Arrington, Rae and Chance didn’t have a TV to keep them occupied. Both were confident they wouldn’t need it.

“We’re very primitive,” Chance said, “but we are very good at that, obviously.”

The restaurant, which boasts 120 employees, opened several hours later without a hitch. Its drive-through lanes, which were consistently full, are designed to handle 150 orders per hour.