Before it careened out of control — before she decided to perform 600 acts of kindness in one year — Alex McKelvey began with one.
She was 6 years old when her maternal grandmother, Linda, died in September 2013.
“Mom and Grandma were best buddies, and Mom cried a lot when she passed on,” Alex said. “I told her Grandma was up in heaven. I was sad, too, but I comforted her.”
Alex’s mother, Sarah, said she and Alex decided to perform 60 acts of kindness before March 22, 2014 — which would have been Linda’s 60th birthday.
There were rules.
“I try to do acts of kindness at home, but they don’t count,” Alex said. “You have to do them for someone you don’t know, or as a surprise for someone you do know, like one of your teachers.”
Sarah and Alex came up with dozens of ideas, and husband/father Army Sgt. Richard McKelvey added support — both moral and financial — to the Lakewood family’s actions.
“Dad isn’t involved that much,” Alex said. “We play a lot, and he likes to sleep on the couch.”
Richard took no offense.
“I do like to nap on the couch,” he said. “It’s a little embarrassing, but I try to emulate my daughter — well, both the women in my life. I’ve helped out in a few things, but it’s mostly them.”
The acts ranged from small — leaving a quarter taped to a gumball machine — to the more ambitious. On Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Easter, the McKelvey women wrap a candy treat and a $1 bill in 100 ribbon-tied napkins or eggs and hand them out at Lakewood Towne Center.
“One of them will have a $100 bill,” Sarah said.
The McKelveys leave large tips for deserving restaurant staff when they dine out. Often, that might mean a $100 bill for the crew of a fast food restaurant.
“We’re not rich or close to it,” said Sarah, a caseworker for Greater Lakes Mental Health. “But we decided to use our finances a little differently. We’re giving up a few luxury things, and we’ve chosen to live a simple life.
“Originally, I think it was my idea, the 60 acts of kindness to honor my mother. But Alex embraced it and took charge. Last March 22, when we’d done our 60 acts of kindness, Alex said, ‘Let’s do 600 this year.’ ”
Alex is now 8, a first-grader at Life Christian Academy.
“I picked 600 because it was 10 times more than 60,” Alex said. “And we’re not going to stop there. We’re going to do thousands, then a million. I’d like to reach so many people.”
This past year has been a busy one for the McKelvey family, thanks to Alex’s goal.
Last weekend, for instance, climaxed an act of kindness that had been in the works for weeks. The three McElveys showed up at the Lakewood YMCA and, with friends and volunteering staff members, repainted the Youth Center.
And that wasn’t all.
“We took donations online, put in our own money and got some contributions from stores,” Sarah said. “We’re giving the center all new board games and gaming tables and even a new piece of art.”
All of it counted as a single act of kindness.
“It’s number 485, and it counts as one,” Alex said between strokes with a roller. “I love doing things for people.”
The McKelvey clan has gathered and taken clothes to a Seattle shelter, toys to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Seattle. And they’re weekly volunteers at the Rescue Mission in Tacoma.
“Alex seems happiest at the Mission. The guys there love her, and she’s happy to see them,” Richard said.
Sarah said her daughter is known there as “The Napkin Girl” for her job handing out napkins at meals.
“There are some pretty rough guys there, but they just adore her,” Sarah said. “They call her ‘princess’ and ask for her autograph.”
Does she sign?
“I draw a picture and write ‘Love God,’ ” Alex said.
On Sunday, Alex and her family will be up early, passing out 50 laundry “pots” at laundromats in the Lakewood area — packing quarters and laundry detergent as a small gift.
From 3-5 p.m., they will be at the Lakewood YMCA Youth Center, where the revamped game room will be opened, and the Y will host a party honoring Alex. The public is invited.
“I’m always amazed by her heart,” Sarah said. “I look at her spirit of giving to others and think, ‘If an 8-year-old can do this, why can’t anyone?’ ”