Donations drop as 'free coffee' sign vanishes from rest stop

MARYSVILLE, Wash. -- A cup of coffee can mean needed money for non-profit groups up and down I-5, but one group operating at a rest stop near Smokey Point says donations are down, and the state is to blame.

Truck driver Brian Luber is among many who stop at rest stops for a quick rest after logging miles and miles on the open road, and he says it's even better when he can grab a cup of coffee for free.

"It's quite refreshing, actually," he said. "It's nice that they put it out there for us."

But on this stop, there was something missing from the blue sign that sits along I-5 at Smokey Point. The lighted "free coffee" sign that sat below is now gone.

The coffee is still brewing, but the non-profit groups that provide the service say the donations they rely on are down because drivers don't know it's still available.

Lois Tysseling says she's noticed a 20 percent drop for her group Chapter BR that raises money for education.

"There are people who don't even notice that it's here," she said. "It doesn't stand out. And there's nothing in the parking lot that says anything."

WSDOT says it removed the signs from all rest stops in the state due safety concerns. Except for the lighted one at Smokey Point, volunteers had to walk close to the freeway to physically open and close the signs.

Years ago, the state considered putting lighted signs at every rest area, but then ruled it out because of the cost. A decision was made to keep the one at Smokey Point until it broke down, which his now has.

"It is always very busy," said Kate Kalmback with The Ladies Oriental Shrine. "A lot of truck drivers, a lot of commercial drivers, and families. And for the safety, I think it's wrong that they don't tell drivers it's available."

One driver said he'll continue to stop in like he always does, even though the "free coffee" signs aren't there.

"I donate every time I come," Michael Aldrich said. "There's always good causes."

The WSDOT says it hasn't had any complaints about the signs being removed from other rest stops.