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Ken Rye sat with a dozen other city sewer workers enjoying coffee and cookies from strangers who wanted to convey a universal but often forgotten message: Be nice.

Rye, who said he is more used to being called "dirty names out on the street," was surprised to be targeted for a so-called random act of kindness during a weeklong campaign.Yes, even this central Wisconsin city of 35,000 mostly churchgoing, hard-working souls needs to be reminded that kindness is not dead.

"I don't think that Wausau is not kind," Rye said Thursday. "I think that people get caught up with themselves. We are a more selfish society."

About 200 businesses, schools, churches and groups are taking part in the campaign, which is promoted around town with signs urging everyone to get involved. The good deeds include visiting nursing homes, buying and cooking food for firefighters and taking coffee and cookies to people with thankless jobs, like sewer workers and garbage collectors.

Mona Roth, coordinator of the kindness week, admits it says something about the times.

"We talk about being kind. We know we should do it. We commend other people when they do it. But when it comes right down to it, we probably are not doing it enough," said Roth, marketing manager for the Wausau Daily Herald, which has featured daily stories on the campaign.

Nancy Briggin, the director of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation in Fairfax, Calif., said kindness these days does not often reach beyond people's immediate family and friends.