The JC Mart on the corner of Dunklin and Jefferson streets was slammed on Saturday morning as a line of cars waiting to get free gas stretched up Broadway Street.
A regional outreach group with the Church of God in Christ was providing free gasoline Saturday on a first-come, first-served basis in Jefferson City in an effort to fill a need and promote a faith-based message.
Event organizer Jason Groce said the church raised $1,270 for the event and spent all of it on gas.
“We planned to be here all day, but I don’t know if we’ll last that long,” Groce said, gesturing to the long line of cars along Dunklin Street.
The church group stayed until the funds ran out that afternoon.
US gas prices rose following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is up 40 cents from a week ago and nearly $1.50 from a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association.
Gas prices posted Saturday at the JC Mart were $3.97.
“With rising gas prices, people are hurting right now and people are unemployed right now,” Groce said. “It’s our way for the church to come out of the church so we can give back to people and still be able to share the message of Jesus Christ.”
After the church volunteers asked them to enter the parking lot, the drivers who received free gasoline simply had to wait in their cars while the volunteers pumped. There were no restrictions on who could get the gas.
Howard Hatler said he heard about the free giveaway on the Saturday morning news and decided to check it out.
Hatler, who lives near the gas station, was queuing at 8 a.m., two hours before the pumps started.
“I haven’t worked all week, so that helps,” he said. “I appreciate it, you know, it’s a good deed.”
Brian Merz was online shortly after. He said a friend told him about the gift so he wanted to see what it was all about.
“I was way early – got here at 10am after 8am – and I guess I should have parked in there, but it looks like I’m going to get some gas out of the deal “, did he declare.
Merz said he appreciates anything free because the prices are skyrocketing.
“With the economy the way it is right now – and I’m semi-retired – anything free right now is good,” he said.
“I know I think twice about doing things right now,” he continued. “Getting gas is a lot more than it used to be. Everything costs a lot more than before, so things like this help.
Abigail Branson, a single mother of two who was also in line for free petrol, said she thought the gift was a nice gesture with a meaningful impact.
“It’s a great way to help the community, whether it’s people in need or just free gas,” she said. “Times are tough right now.”
Branson said she sometimes struggles to pay for gas on one income.
The pumps were prepaid in $100 increments—the maximum the gas station would allow at one time.
Each driver receiving free gas also received an information card with a spiritual message, a list of community resources and directions to the Jefferson City Affiliated Church of God in Christ.
“Our primary goal is for God to get glory in everything we do,” Groce said. “So we’re thrilled that so many people are here and we just want to do whatever we can to help and share the gospel.”
Saturday was the first time the Church of God in Christ has held a gasoline giveaway, Groce said, and he plans to learn from the experience.
He said he didn’t expect so many people to attend the event or wait.
“It’s chaotic right now, but God can put everything in order,” he said.
Groce said he wants to recreate the event in three other locations in his jurisdiction, including Jefferson City, Columbia, Sedalia, Fulton, Marshall and Kansas City.
Khiara Brown, who waited about 10 minutes for free petrol, said she thought the process went smoothly after the church organized a system allowing cars to enter from Dunklin Street and exit on Jefferson St.
Brown heard about the gift from a friend and said it filled a clear need in the community.
“I know a lot of people are happy after that,” she said.