1,840 quarters later, thanks for tanks aid

A church gives full service to gas station customers and 25 cents for each gallon.

Published February 26, 2007

"Fill it up!" the Rev. Kenneth Link yelled, weaving through cars lined up at Charlie's Belleair Amoco BP.

Nothing like free gas to draw a crowd.

Lakeview Baptist Church, where Link is pastor, tried to make an impact on the community with a "gas buy-down" on Saturday.

The church reimbursed customers a quarter - literally - for every gallon of fuel pumped during a three-hour period at the station, which is at Belleair Road and Highland Avenue.

Nearly 30 church members pumped gas, washed windshields, and handed out free popcorn as well as a flier introducing customers to their church.

The church has a history of hosting nontraditional events.

In March 2004, Lakeview Baptist raised money for an ailing church member through a motorcycle exhibition, and again through an antique car show later that year.

But the church had not tried a gas buy-down. This time, the purpose wasn't to raise money, but to give it away.

"We got the idea from a church in the Midwest," says Link of Saturday's event. "We're trying to reach out to our immediate area. It allows the community to see we care."

Customers were not asked to listen to preaching. The only religious message was a short passage on the back of the flier that was distributed.

The event brought a rush of midday customers, with as many as 25 cars lined up at the pumps at one time. Wait times reached nearly a half-hour at the height of the rush, and a few customers drove off in frustration.

"I don't mind the wait," said resident Nancy McCormack, in line for more than 30 minutes and passing the time munching on free popcorn.

"It's amazing," said Fred Carnes of Clearwater, who was especially happy to be driving his wife's gas-guzzling SUV Saturday.

"I think it's great," said Sherrie Grist, who lives nearby. And, she added, "We're going to try the church out."

Church members seemed to enjoy the event as well.

"I love it," said Harold Caplinger, whose wife, Anna, also worked the event. "We've met so many nice people."

Link hopes that some of those who got gas on Thursday will come back and visit the 250-member church at 1430 Belleair Road in Clearwater.