WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. -

Before the new Chick-fil-A Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, opens Thursday morning, close to 100 people camped out in the restaurant’s parking lot, hoping to snag free meals for a year.

The grand opening ritual goes back 13 years, when the store hosts a family-friendly "First 100" party. Eager patrons show up with tents and sleeping bags and stake out the fast-food establishment to be among the first 100 people in line. The incentive: the first 100 adults in the door receive a free meal a week over the course of a year.

“We just like to make it fun and reward people who love our brand and love us,” said John Velarde, the local franchise owner.

Velarde said it took about a year to build and hire for Chick-fil-A’s location on MacArthur Road, near the Kmart, in Whitehall Township.

Some of Chick-fil-A’s biggest fans arrived at the store before 6 a.m. Wednesday and planned to stay at the location for 24 hours. Throughout the day, the restaurant offered meals, snacks and activities for the kids.

“This is actually my 56th rodeo,” said Marvina Bolton of Quakertown, Bucks County.

Bolton said she has participated the “First 100” all over the country, braving the heat in Dallas and heavy snow in Missouri. As a funeral director, she said the events allow her to find a balance in her life and decompress.

“Sometimes, you become a bit consumed by the day-to-day functions with the grief,” said Bolton.

Anissa Telle, who lives near Easton, traveled with her family. The “First 100” event is her sixth of its kind.

“When we first started doing it, my husband wasn’t employed,” explained Telle, who’s received free meals before at another location. “It was like a special treat we could do as a family.”

Velarde said he has hired 80 people to work at the restaurant and will continue to hire more staff as business gets underway.

In addition to serving the free meals to the first 100 adults, Velarde said he was collecting children’s books to donate to the local Boys and Girl’s Club.

The community event is open to guests who live in specific zip codes surrounding the restaurant. A complete listing of who’s eligible can be found online.