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Crowds Belly Up to Free Dinner at Truck Stop Cafe

November 28, 2003|From Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. — People started lining up for Thanksgiving dinner before 10 a.m. at Chuck Quillin's place. Some were strangers; others have been coming for years.

For 14 years, the owner of the Three Mile Cafe in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, has been offering a free Thanksgiving dinner to everyone who walks in the door of his truck stop.

"We probably have enough for 500 people," Quillin said in a telephone interview as he prepared the huge meal. "We have plenty of food."

People came from as far as Spokane, 100 miles to the southwest. Most of the guests were regulars, but they included truckers and tourists, some of whom were surprised they could get a free Thanksgiving meal.

Quillin, 64, spent 19 years constructing pipelines across the United States. One of those jobs was in the Bonners Ferry area, a little logging town he liked so much that he bought the cafe in 1979.

The first free Thanksgiving dinner drew about 25 people, and it's been growing since. Half a dozen employees pitch in as volunteers, as do a large number of community members.

Quillin says the meal is a civic gathering in the spirit of the first Thanksgiving. Entire families come to the diner, and no one is allowed to sit alone.

"Whether you have or have not doesn't even enter into it," Quillin said. "It's something where you give back."

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