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Random act of kindness event goes international

Rindy Gahnz, who has coordinated a “Random Act of Kindness Day,” is shown in this photo from her event’s Facebook page.

By KATRINA STYX, Forum News Service

HASTINGS — It started about 16 years ago. Rindy Gahnz was living in Chicago at the time and was on a 30-mile drive from the office where she worked to her sales territory.

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“I was having a bad day,” she recalled.

She had to go through a toll along her way, and as she paid her own toll, she decided on a whim to pay the toll for the car behind her. And then everything changed.

“It made me feel like a gazillion dollars,” she said. “I wasn’t crabby anymore.”

The car behind her was driven by a woman with a little boy. They followed her, honking the horn and waving and saying “thank you” over and over. It was such a small thing she had done, but it had made a big impact on that other person.

“I just started crying,” Gahnz said. “It was the neatest way to kick off… my holiday season.”

Since that year, Gahnz started making her random act of kindness a regular event. Every year on Dec. 1, she gives the gift of kindness to strangers.

Gahnz is a Hastings native who now lives in Woodbury. Her friends and family got involved early on as they heard about Gahnz’s efforts to make even just a small difference in someone else’s life. Then some of her co-workers joined the movement. Now, with social media, she’s seeing more and more people around the United States and even in other countries signing up for “Random Act of Kindness Day.”

“In the last two years, it kind of took off,” she said.

She set up an event page on Facebook, where people could digitally sign up to participate and invite others to do the same. The invitation has spread to more than 10,000 people. More than 1,300 have committed to do a random act of kindness this Sunday.

The things people do don’t have to be big. Like Gahnz’s first random act, it could be paying for the person behind you at a drive-through. It could be handing out bags filled with hot cocoa and candy canes outside Target, like one participant did. It doesn’t have to involve money at all; it could be taking the time to turn off the cell phone and visit with an elderly person, or helping out with a few chores.

The day has been a big hit with families as well.

“People have really gotten their families involved,” Gahnz said.

Gahnz has friends who participate by being Salvation Army bell-ringers as a family. Another family was featured on KARE 11-TV in the Twin Cities because their children gave their own presents away to Toys for Tots.

Doing random acts of kindness starts a ripple effect of goodwill, Gahnz said. It starts with the person who gives the gift and spreads to the person receiving it, but it doesn’t stop there.

Gahnz told the story of one woman who decided to pay for the person behind her at a Caribou Coffee drive-through. The barista there got so excited that she decided to see if she could encourage others to make the same gesture. On that one day, 19 drivers decided to pay for the person behind them, Gahnz said.

Other times, a gift of kindness inspires the recipient to also do something for someone else, and the ripple effect grows.

“It changes lives, and it’s yours that it changes,” she said.

“It really does help us appreciate what we do have — in materialistic and non-materialistic things. It helps us appreciate the clothes on our back, what we take for granted, but it also helps us appreciate love, friendship, family, that you can’t put a price on.”

But it’s also a way for people to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Because of how the event has spread, those who participate know there are thousands of others around the world making the same gestures on the same day.

“We all seek to be a part of something, to feel that togetherness,” she said. “And I just think that having that dedicated day for a random act of kindness that has gone global with friends and coworkers and foreign countries, we’re all doing the same thing on the same day and it’s just exciting to strive to be a part of that movement. So yes, we should be kind all the time, but we forget that, we get busy. … So here’s a date dedicated to be a part of a global movement to better other people and to watch, literally watch that ripple effect.”

To get involved, look for “Random Act of Kindness Day! #kindnesstogether” on Facebook. More ideas for ways to help others are posted on the site and are shared in the comments.