Elk River has taken Minnesota Nice to the next level.

After the City Council proclaimed February the Month of Kindness, Mayor Stephanie Klinzing challenged residents to commit 1,000 "random acts of kindness."

The goodwill overflowed.

"We are the kindest city in Minnesota," Klinzing declared this week, as she stood beside a wooden thermometer in Rivers Edge Park that registered the city's progress -- 1,300 acts of kindness as of Thursday.

All month long, residents who did kindly deeds recorded them on post cards, mailed or dropped them in boxes, or posted them online at www.loveelkriver.org.

• "A friend helped me with my homework and helped me to feel smart."

• "My 10 year old daughter and her stepsister made us breakfast and delivered it to my husband and me in bed one weekend morning. They did this because they heard of the acts of kindness campaign."

• "I paid for the person behind me's fare on the commuter rail."

The project got started because folks had been telling Klinzing, a 30-year resident, that Elk River was getting so big, with about 24,000 residents, that it was losing its close-knit, small-town feel. At Christmas time, Klinzing saw a YouTube video about a restaurant in Philadelphia where people kept paying for other diners' meals.

"I got the sense that if we did a similar thing through the entire city, something would change. It would be kind of a climate change. That basically is what happened."

After doing an online search and checking with the people at www.spreadkindness.org, Klinzing says, "No other city in Minnesota has anything concrete like this and can say they have more kindness."

She has thrown down a gauntlet: "I challenge other cities to prove us wrong. If you [accept the challenge], we will show you how kind we are. We will come help you put together a kindness campaign so you can prove you are kinder than we are."

So far, Anoka, Belle Plaine and Clearwater have expressed interest. Klinzing plans to meet next week with the Anoka City Council and with a Belle Plaine group.

• "I volunteered at a local food shelf."

• "Cleaned a very dirty and smelly microwave out for others."

• "Wrote my grandma a note after her and I just got in a fight."

• "My neighbors ... help me to remain in my house. They are always doing things ... that I just cannot do by myself. Their help is beyond question my lifeline to keep me going. Thanks"

February kindness was a good cure for cabin fever crabbiness, said Abby Cummins at the Waterfall tanning spa, a few doors down from the kindness thermometer. "I think it is a great idea and helps you pay attention to your own behavior when you hear what other people did."

Klinzing said that she initially met some humble resistance from people who said they already do kind deeds but didn't want to call attention to themselves. The campaign gained traction as people talked about the sweet things recorded.

• "I didn't fight with my brother and it felt good."

• "My dog, Sarah, & I visited a dementia floor at a nursing home. The residents seemed to be comforted by petting her."

• "I thought this kindness kick was sort of stupid when I first heard about it. But then, when I smiled at this person who looked to be having a really bad day and asked how they were doing ... their reaction made it so worthwhile. That little thing that I did felt so good when they smiled back at me and thanked me for smiling at them and asking about their day."

"In town you could feel the spirit going on as you hear people talking about it," said Cindy Gibbs, the mayor's righthand kindness manager.

Gibbs noted that residents at the Guardian Angels senior living center liked seeing students from Spectrum High School who read to them and painted the ladies' fingernails.

Kids at Spectrum, a 210-student charter school, also chipped in about $300 to help members of a local family, hospitalized after a car accident, with their heating bill, said Principal Vanessta Spark.

Four juniors delivered the check on Wednesday to Elk River Municipal Utilities.

"A lot of times we think our problems are the only ones that exist," said Spectrum junior Kaitlyn Aberle, 17.

"Through raising money for the heating bill, it brought to light for students just how much we can really help people if we are willing and have an eye to see a need."

Classmate Hayley Wrede, 16, said she learned that even doing little things, like putting a nice note on a student's locker, can have an effect.

"People pay it forward. It makes your day and you are happy because you have such a positive effect on someone. And once you've done that, you want to do it more."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658