California town decides to put kindness on the agenda

By Susan Herendeen

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Wednesday, April 22 2009 2:57 p.m. MDT

WATERFORD, Calif. — This little town in eastern Stanislaus County may be known for the orchards and dairies that dot its rolling hills, but this week city officials are reminding the 8,100 residents to pass on some good cheer by doing something thoughtful for a stranger, mentoring a youngster or simply being a good neighbor.

Thanks to a push from the Waterford Ministerial Association, the city has declared "Random Acts of Kindness" week, which began Sunday and ends Saturday, at the close of a community clean-up day.

City leaders may not find a cure for the ills of modern life, like road rage or bullying or the angry remarks that can demoralize a community. But they hope to remind people that kindness can turn strangers into friends.

"It's a goodwill kind of thing, to draw attention to the fact that we don't do enough of that," said retired pastor Glenn Stanford, who spearheaded the effort on behalf of nine churches in the ministerial association.

There are no rules to follow: A motorist could give up a prime parking spot. A pedestrian could plug quarters into an empty parking meter. A farmer could offer free vegetables from his garden. An appreciative person could pen a thank-you note.

Hugs count, too.

There are no planned events.

And at the end of the week, there will be no way to tell how many people played along.

Stanford said he got the idea a dozen years ago, when he read about a Denver-based foundation that provides materials so community groups, service clubs and schools can remind people that small gestures make a difference.

According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, such celebrations can be an antidote to the random acts of violence that tear communities apart. The foundation selected Feb. 9-15 for its celebration this year, but welcomes events at any time.

Waterford's week always has been in April, though the effort fell by the wayside after a few years. The gloomy economy prompted Stanford to talk it up again this year.

He had an easy time winning an endorsement from the City Council.

"I doubt that there's ever a bad time to promote kindness," said Mayor Charlie Goeken.

With no advertising budget, supporters are depending on word of mouth.

The idea got a nod from Danielle Parent, who was working on her laptop at a local coffee shop. She hadn't heard of the city's proclamation, but she has been helped by strangers who dropped off clothes and toys when two young nieces came to live in her home.

So she pitches in when she can, recently finding a food box for a friend who is down on her luck.

"It makes you happier," Parent said.

Kristina Heath, manager at Beans Coffee Co., said she has served several customers in the drive-thru lane who purchase drinks for the customers behind them. That generosity brings a smile to her face.

"It happens pretty often, actually, and randomly," Heath said.

Stanford, who was a minister at Church of the Brethren in Waterford until he retired last year, said he purchases coffee for strangers from time to time. He also lets people cut in front of him in line at the grocery store. He has been known to bring refreshments to homeless people.

He hopes they pass it on.

"It might be catching," Stanford said.

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