People have trouble paying for gas. A Chicago businessman gives it away for free.
“I hate to see people in this situation,” said Wilson, who owns a medical supply company and produces a gospel music TV show called “Singstation.”
Wilson also ran unsuccessfully for several elected offices, including mayor of Chicago, senator from Illinois and, in 2016, president of the United States.
The businessman recognized the disastrous effect high prices would have on those who were in less stable financial circumstances than him.
“I thought if I was complaining about it myself and people weren’t necessarily having the income that I was having, then maybe I should do something about it,” said Wilson, who grew up in Louisiana as the son of a sharecropper. and did not attend school after seventh grade. “I decided I wanted to do this and help some people.”
He promoted the first gas giveaway on social media, inviting Chicagoans to fill their cars with $50 of free gas on March 17 at one of 10 locations — all of which agreed to temporarily lower their prices.
According to AAA, the average regular gas price in Chicago that day was $4.84 per gallon. A year ago it was $3.28 a gallon.
Knowing there would be a high turnout, Wilson hired 100 people to work at the stations for $15 an hour to hand out gas cards and help fuel the hundreds of cars that lined up as soon as the morning. Wilson, along with dozens of volunteers, also pumped gasoline for several hours.
“It’s teamwork,” he said.
Although the free fill-up caused major traffic congestion, the initiative was generally welcomed, and Wilson said the overwhelming crowd of cars that day highlighted the desperate need for additional financial assistance.
Wilson’s initial Facebook post announcing his donation was inundated with comments. While some lamented the chaos and congestion caused by his efforts, others praised him for his generosity.
“I filled up with gas,” one person commented. “I like you!!!”
Another Facebook user wrote, “I commend and appreciate you caring enough to take action.”
Wilson said he heard countless people express his thanks.
“They try to make a living, work and take care of their families,” he said.
Wilson’s charitable efforts have sometimes led to criticism that he seeks political gain, but he said soliciting votes was not his goal of giving back.
“You are criticized for doing good; you are criticized for doing wrong. So I say, let them criticize me for doing good,” Wilson said at a press conference.
He said he wanted to use his success to make life a little easier for others.
“I am not a politician. I’m a businessman,” Wilson told The Washington Post, confirming that he is not currently running for office. His past political efforts, he added, were “strictly aimed at helping citizens.”
When he saw how many people had not been lucky enough to receive gas in his first giveaway, he decided to top up his original donation of $1,000,000 with a second giveaway.
This time, to ease congestion and reach more people, it’s offering $50 fill-ups at 50 service stations across Cook County, and he hired 250 workers to help keep it running.
The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, Chicago Police Department and Cook County Sheriff’s Office also said they would send people to help with traffic.
It will begin at 7 a.m. Thursday and continue until the $1,000,000 has been spent. All participating gas stations again agreed to lower their prices for the morning.
Khalil Abdullah, who owns several gas stations in the Chicago area, plans to lower his rate by about 30 cents a gallon.
“We welcome that kind of generosity,” he said, adding that he had lost count of how many customers had told him the high prices had caused hardship. “I think everyone needs that kind of break.”
Wilson said he felt lucky to be able to lend a hand.
“The need is great and I want to help,” he said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”