At 5 a.m. Tuesday, 150 Wawa workers started building 32,000 Shorti hoagies, which weighed nine tons in total.

But more exciting — for mouths and hearts alike — was the lunchtime distribution of 22,000 of those hoagies free to the public on Independence Mall to celebrate the 27th annual Hoagie Day, one of the festivities leading up to Independence Day in Philadelphia.

Attending Hoagie Day also meant waiting in line for hours in high temperatures — but it’s not just the free hoagie and potential iced tea (while supplies lasted) that drew Philadelphians.

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For others, the allure of Hoagie Day lies in a fun family outing, or just something to do despite the heat and lines.

Heidi Carpenter, along with five fellow mothers and about 20 of their collective children, were among the first in line.

Carpenter, who has participated in the event for the last four years, said her group lined up around 9:30 a.m. and brought blankets and toys for the kids while they waited.

“The kids love it and ask to come back every year,” she said. “They’re with their friends, and I guess they love free food.”

Afterward, the group was heading to the National Constitution Center, which was offering free admission as part of more than 50 local events celebrating the holiday.

The lawn of Independence Mall is full of people in line for free hoagies at the annual Hoagie Day.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
The lawn of Independence Mall is full of people in line for free hoagies at the annual Hoagie Day.

Others said Hoagie Day is a fun way to spend an afternoon despite the wait.

Val Petrany comes from New Jersey with her teenage daughter every year. They’re not particularly attached to the free hoagie, she said, but it gives them “a fun day out.”

This was Jerry Bailey’s eighth Hoagie Day, and he intends to keep the tradition going.

“We’re independent now, and that means something,” he said. “We want to support it.”

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force compete in a hoagie-making competition at the annual Wawa Hoagie Day.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force compete in a hoagie-making competition at the annual Wawa Hoagie Day.

Celebrating troops, veterans, police officers, and firefighters, the event also donates 10,000 hoagies to veterans and hunger-relief centers.

“Every year our commitment to those who serve increases,” Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens said. “What hasn’t changed is the passion of our associates.”

In addition to hoagie distribution, there were activities supporting troops, veterans, and those serving the community — such as a nine-ton Hoagie Salute and a hoagie-building competition pitting the agencies against each other.

One of Wawa's mascots, called Shorti, dances as Wawa employees organize hoagies.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
One of Wawa's mascots, called Shorti, dances as Wawa employees organize hoagies.

During the early morning buildup, music pulsed while Wawa workers from across the region made the hoagies. Marc Maiolino, Wawa’s director of store operations, played DJ, keeping the crowd’s spirits up with music and cheers.

“Everyone looks forward to Christmas, but we look forward to Hoagie Day,” said Tamika Miller, a general manager who has volunteered at 21 Hoagie Days.