SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — It was busier than usual Friday morning at one gas station in Smithfield.
Veterans and active military members lined up at the Sunoco on Pleasant View Avenue to get $50 worth of gas at no charge.
“It’s a very honored thing to do,” veteran George Fontaine said. “I respect them for that, and on a busy weekend like this, it’s noticed by a lot of people. This is what should be going on in life.”
The giveaway was set to begin at 10 a.m. and last until noon, but due to the huge turnout, organizers decided to start an hour early. One man said he got in line as early as 7:30 a.m.
Three local business owners and former college roommates, Bill Hogan, Rich Santilli and Robert Skeffington, came up with the idea.
“We were talking about gas prices, and we were talking about how it’s affecting everyone, especially senior citizens and veterans. We looked at it, it’s Independence Day coming up, it’s Independence Day weekend. We thought it would be a great thing to do to support our troops,” Skeffington said.
Participants were asked to meet across the street at Smithfield High School to provide proof of their service with a veterans identification card or an active military ID.
Skeffington, Santilli and Hogan previously said they were going to cover 90% of the cost of the giveaway, with the owner of the Sunoco station covering the remaining 10%.
“The vets are such special people. Just talking to them in the cars, they were just so pleasant and thankful,” Santilli told 12 News. “They were thanking us for doing this, and we’re like, ‘No. We’re thanking you for what you did.'”
Initially, the offer was open to the first 200 cars, but organizers said additional donations allowed them to help 260 drivers. No one who showed up was turned away.
“That’s not small. That’s big. And for them to actually do this, for just all veterans … look at everyone. This is amazing, and I thank every single one of them,” Marine Corps Veteran Megan Beaudette said. “They can thank us, but we’re thanking them too.”