WILLMAR -- There was a slight commotion as three costumed men strode into the lobby of the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter Wednesday morning.
"Hi, I'm Geist," said one of them, shaking hands with a family visiting the Willmar shelter to see the dogs.
The trio left an assortment of gifts at the front counter -- cat food, dog food, food and water bowls, a litter pan and some cash. "Keep up the good work," Geist called out as they departed in an unmarked car for their next stop.
Who were those masked crusaders?
Don't ask for their real names because they aren't telling. The three belong to Real-Life Superheroes, an international organization of citizen volunteers who don make-believe superhero personas to commit good deeds.
This much they'll reveal: Geist is from Rochester and has been a Real-Life Superhero since 2007. Blue, from Granite Falls, and Arctic Knight, from Burnsville, joined Real-Life Superheroes about a year ago.
"We come from all different walks of life," Geist said. "We all have our various reasons for doing this."
Action, not talk, is one of the motivators, said Blue. "Apathy is our main enemy."
The superheroes, who don't share their identity with anyone other than a few trusted individuals, were traveling Wednesday as they usually do -- on their own time and their own dime.
Their first stop was at the Granite Falls Manor in Granite Falls, where they left cookies, crayons, paints and other craft supplies. Their next stop was the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter in Willmar, after which they planned to patrol the town in search of homeless people, handing out socks and candy bars.
Their superhero activities are many and varied.
They spend time with terminally ill children, work with the homeless and help out with community causes. When heavy rain flooded towns in southeastern Minnesota last fall, Geist loaded a truck with supplies and delivered them to the stricken communities. Blue promotes safe driving awareness, putting up posters during the holiday season festooned with red ribbons that can be torn off and placed as a reminder on someone's car.
Some of their actions are more risky. One of the things they do is paint over gang graffiti, a move that's not welcomed by gang members. Real-Life Superheroes in the U.S. and abroad also have aligned themselves with law enforcement as citizen patrols for preventing and reporting crimes.
Don't some people think the Superhero costumes are goofy? "If they do, that's fine," Geist said. "If we can bring a smile to someone's face, how good is that? When we go out and find homeless people, when we hand them food and supplies, it doesn't matter."
It's attention-getting for a cause, Arctic Knight said. "People are going to be inspired."
Tari Evenson, manager of the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter, said she and the shelter staff didn't know about the Real Life Superheroes' visit until that morning.
"They called us and said they were going to stop by with some donations," she said. "I wish we had more superheroes."