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March 02. 2013 3:00PM

Church's price break on gas draws drivers in Epping


ehicles line up behind Danielle Tyler, one of the many motorists who received gas for $2.99 a gallon at the Sunoco Xtra Mart in Epping Saturday morning. (Jason Schreiber/Union Leader Correspondent)


Rockingham County Sheriff's Deputy Lindsey Cunningham keeps an eye on the line of traffic stretching down Route 125 as drivers wait for gas at $2.99 a gallon at the Sunoco Xtra Mart in Epping Saturday morning. (Jason Schreiber/Union Leader Correspondent)

EPPING - As a single mother with four kids, Danielle Tyler knows how hard it is keeping her gas tank filled with the price of regular unleaded nearing $4 a gallon.


So when she heard that Next Level Church was going to help out struggling motorists by offering gas for $2.99 a gallon, the 28-year-old Epping mom didn't mind waiting in line outside the Sunoco Xtra Mart.


"This helps me out so much. Any little bit helps," she said as she filled her tank Saturday morning with her kids waiting patiently in their van.


The line of vehicles stretched down the breakdown lane of Route 125 even before the gas deal began at 11 a.m.


Next Level Church, which opens its newest location at O'neil Cinemas in Epping on March 10, made a deal with the Epping gas station to help drivers.


The church agreed to pay the 74-cent difference for 3,000 gallons of gas, allowing the price of regular unleaded to drop from $3.73 to $2.99 a gallon.


Church leaders said the more than $2,200 spent from its church donations to cut gas prices is one way to help people in their community.


"We'll never be a church with millions in our bank account," said Josh Gagnon, 33, the church's lead pastor who started the church four years ago with locations in Newington, Portland, Maine, and Danvers, Mass.


The church originally planned to offset the cost for 2,000 gallons, then upped it to 2,500, and by late Saturday morning decided to go all the way to 3,000 as the line continued to grow.
"It's hard to turn people away," Gagnon said.


Several church volunteers in yellow safety vests were on hand to help keep the lines moving. A deputy from the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department also stood at the entrance to assist with traffic flow.


Some motorists said they were surprised that parishioners weren't handing out lots of pamphlets and other information to promote the church, but members said the event wasn't about forcing their message onto motorists.


"It's been unbelievable. We've heard nothing but a positive response from people," said Chris Boardman, 29, who will serve as the pastor at the new Epping location.


Many of those who lined up didn't mind the half-hour wait, even if it meant burning up gas as they waited. A 74-cent price break was still worth it.


"I've got nothing else to do right now," said Jen Chapman of Epping, who waited about 20 minutes.


She said the price of gas should always be $2.99 or less. "There's no good reason for it to be $4 a gallon," said Chapman, whose Chevrolet Tahoe gets 14 miles per gallon.


Bruce and Liz Goldsmith of Raymond also took advantage of the church's gas discount.


"I think it's great. They know people are struggling to buy gas. At $2.99, that's fine. I can deal with that. I'm not greedy," Liz said as she watched the gas gauge on her Pontiac Aztek approach the empty mark before she made it to the pump.


Diane Ganley of Exeter was shopping at nearby Marshalls and decided to swing by and get in line.


"I think it's great," she said.


The endless gas lines kept Xtra Mart manager Lisa Driscoll busy. She had to keep track of the gallons as they disappeared, with the first 400 gallons being guzzled up within about 40 minutes.


Driscoll said the station had plenty of gas and wouldn't run out.


If there were still people waiting in line after the 3,000 gallons were gone, Boardman said they would likely be given gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts.


"We want to make sure everyone heads home with something if the gas runs out," he said.


jschreiber@newstote.com


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