Linda Keasey arrived at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds around 6 a.m. Friday to secure the second spot in line for the traditional pancake breakfast.
For a few years now, she’s been rising with the sun in Brush Prairie and heading to the fair for the free meal. Keasey has attended the breakfast for a dozen years and only recalled missing one year because she was baby-sitting her niece.
“It just fills me up, and then I don’t have to eat all day. Pancakes stick to you, and then I don’t feel like eating lunch, so I just snack or whatever, if I want, and walk around the fairgrounds all day,” Keasey said from under a colorful umbrella.
That umbrella came in handy as the Clark County Fair kicked off with a downpour just as thousands arrived for the pancakes. This year marks the fair’s 151st run. Though the free pancakes were gone by 11 a.m., the fair runs through Aug. 11.
The pancake breakfast is put together by Fred Meyer. This year, about 50 to 80 volunteers, many of them family members of Fred Meyer employees, pumped out piles of flapjacks in the early morning hours before hungry locals arrived.
Fred Meyer spokesman Jeffery Temple said the company gives out somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 breakfast vouchers each year. Temple expected 9,000 to 10,000 people to come through.
The breakfast is part of Kroger’s Zero Hunger, Zero Waste campaign. “Our goal is to end hunger in the place we call home by 2025,” Temple said.
The leftovers are given to a local food bank, so nothing is wasted. That’s usually about two box trucks full of food.
Many truckloads more feed the thousands who show up early enough. The line for the pancake tent snaked around three corners and reached The Roadhouse food stand by about 7:45 a.m.; it continued to grow over the next 15 minutes before the breakfast officially started.
The rain poured down as people gathered. The National Weather Service reported about a tenth of an inch of rain in the Salmon Creek area early Friday morning.
As they waited, a fair worker handed out plastic ponchos to anyone who wanted one. Some people came prepared, wearing rain gear and clutching umbrellas, while others wore T-shirts.
Keasey could not convince her sister, who lives in La Center, to come out for pancakes, but the siblings planned to meet up later and check out the craft vendors. Keasey said that’s her favorite part of the fair.
She had submitted several of her own crafts years back and won three blue ribbons for two pieces of calligraphy and another for knitting.
“One of these years I’m going to do it again,” Keasey said.
Farther back in the line early Friday morning stood Heather England and her family. She’s been coming to the pancake breakfast almost every since the year after she was born.
“She’s been doing it for 39 years,” said mom Gwenn Pifer, when England didn’t immediately offer up an age.
England said the pancake breakfast feels like a birthday present every year, since her birthday is just a few days away. This year, it was definitely her birthday gift — her husband Darrel England agreed “to come out and suffer through this,” Heather England said with a laugh.
At 8 a.m. sharp, people in line started to nudge forward toward the big tent next to the grandstands. Fred Meyer employees wearing red hats and red shirts handed out paper plates and a beverage before dishing out a stack of pancakes and bacon or little breakfast sausages.