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Group gives away cash, quietly

While Sid Morice shopped for groceries, she overheard a veteran telling his son they couldn't afford much, not on this trip. With no fanfare, no introduction, no questions asked, the Grey Cloud Island woman found a manager and handed him some cash.

She asked him, please, when the man checks out use the money to pay for his groceries.

"You sure you know what you're doing?" Morice remembers the grocery store manager asking.

She sure did.

"It feels better," the 58-year-old Morice said, "to give it away than to keep it myself."

That's the idea behind the group Morice created, ROOKies -- Random Opportunities for Kindness -- that meets monthly with the aim of helping someone, anyone, when they least expect it.

Morice said it's an idea borne out of the talk radio shows she listens to almost religiously -- between 10 to 12 friends and acquaintances meet monthly, chip in at least 20 bucks apiece and then donate it anonymously to an individual or group in need. The meetings rotate between the homes of group members, and that month's host picks where to send the cash, which usually totals between $200 to $260 each month.

There's only one rule: the host can't donate it to friends or relatives.

"We don't want recognition for it, we don't want it to be where it takes away from just being able to do this for the right reason," Morice said. "We just want to do it to help people out, to pay it forward. Because we've all experienced random acts of kindness."

Celeste Knoff of Cottage Grove, a friend of Morice's and group member since ROOKies began in the summer of 2007, said the group finds inspiration for where to donate each month from all sorts of places, sometimes conversations with co-workers, other times from past interactions with churches or nonprofits.

"A lot of times, it's whatever is making headlines that month," Knoff said, whether it's news of a fire, the Hugo tornado recovery fund or a woman recovering from a violent attack near St. Paul's Lake Phalen. "A lot of times we get the money and we sit on it, waiting for a message from God. There's always some kind of situation that comes along."

Knoff, 47, said she knows the $200-or-so ROOKies collects each month isn't much, but it's more than each member could do on their own.

"We feel like we're making a little contribution into our community," she said.

Both Morice and Knoff are nurses; Morice says roughly a third of the group's members are in the same profession. Those caring, nurturing instincts, she said, might play a part in the desire to help.

But it's an understanding, too, she says, that sometimes people down on their luck need to be reminded there's still some goodness during difficult times.

"If we can be an angel for someone anonymously, making sure they're taken care of," Morice said, "it gives them hope that there are still good people out there."

Jon Avise can be reached at