This article appeared in the March 18, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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A community jumps into action with free gasoline

People’s Association of Justice Advocates
The Rev. Shane Harris, president and founder of the People's Association of Justice Advocates, pumps free gas at an Arco station in San Diego on March 14, 2022. Mr. Harris organized the Gas Me Up campaign, supported by community groups and donors, to give up to $50 worth of gas to low-income and working middle class families.

People are paying eye-popping prices for gasoline, but on Monday, more than 320 drivers in California got gas for free.

Yep. Cars lined up at an Arco station in San Diego where volunteers pumped up to $50 in free gas for each vehicle. Drivers also got a 15-pound box of food, courtesy of the San Diego Food Bank. In all, donors who backed this effort gave away $15,000 worth of gasoline.

This generosity was organized by the Rev. Shane Harris, who is a national civil rights leader and the founder of the nonprofit People’s Association of Justice Advocates. He calls gas prices an “emergency” for people with low incomes and the working middle class. State politicians are debating how to bring relief, but they have yet to act.

And so he did. “I prayed, and I just went straight to work,” he told me in a phone interview. He contacted friends in business, people at nonprofits, and others in the community. In less than two days, he had a gas station and donors lined up.

Californians pay the highest gas taxes in the country, and the highest gas prices. On the day of the Gas Me Up campaign, the average price of a gallon of regular gas in San Diego County was $5.76. That’s $1.44 higher than the national average that day.

Mr. Harris’ group collected data from people who registered for the event. Most of them earn less than $30,000. Manning the pumps, he heard stories about folks having to choose between medicine and gasoline, or facing impractical, long trips on public transportation.

Several states are considering suspending gas taxes. California lawmakers nixed that idea partly because they weren’t sure the savings would get passed to consumers. Now some lawmakers are pushing a $400 rebate for all California taxpayers. Mr. Harris supports a bigger stimulus check that’s targeted at low- and middle-earners who have cars.

It’s not clear how California and other states will react. But Mr. Harris is not waiting to find out. He’s already organizing Gas Me Up 2.0, and fielding calls from people in other parts of the state who want to follow his lead.

This article appeared in the March 18, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 03/18 edition
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