North Dakota post ‘opens its heart’ during Christmas

The Christmas season is joyful but hardly relaxing at Lloyd Spetz Post 1 in Bismarck, N.D. Members work like elves organizing, publicizing and raising funds for their “Open Your Heart” campaign.

Since 1929, the post has held the charity drive, which helps local needy famiiles. The core mission, although evolved, has remained the same, as when then-Post Commander A.D. McKinnon stated, “to solicit the help of those persons who might not care to assume a large responsibility but who can help a little. We feel we can supply leadership for the general public in a work which enlists the sympathy of everyone.”

“Open Your Heart” provides Christmas food baskets and children’s clothing to needy families in the counties of Bismarck and Burleigh. The families are identified not by the Legion, but by a committee of representatives from private and public social service agencies.

The campaign kicks off early every December with a 12-hour radio broadcast on a local radio station. Donations flow in, ranging up to thousands of dollars. “It is our ‘shot in the arm,’ as this radio show brings us an average of $25,000 each year. From there, the funds keep pouring in,” program chairman Bob Wefald said.

Throughout December, students, teachers and staff of the Bismarck Public School system collect cans of non-perishable food items in the thousands, and Army Reservists transport them to the exhibit hall of the Bismarck Civic Center. There, volunteers stack, count and label baskets. Along with the purchased food items, everything is delivered in a day’s time.

With the campaign running for so long, many Christmases have been made memorable. “One guy in California told me that when he was a kid growing up out here, he got a new pair of shoes. He sent in a $1,000 donation,” Wefald commented. “Some people say that when they were kids, ‘Open Your Heart’ was the only Christmas they had.”

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