"We intend to solicit the help of those persons who might not care to assume a large responsibility but who can help a little. We can supply leadership for the general public in a work which enlists the sympathy of everyone." – A.D. McKinnon
With those words, the commander of American Legion Lloyd Spetz Post 1 in Bismarck, N.D., launched its Open Your Heart campaign in December 1930 to help area families in need at Christmas.
Post 1's current commander, Ben Kemp, says the Legion continues to provide leadership and organization for Open Your Heart, but tremendous community support is the key to the program's resounding success 80 years later.
"In the month of December, we will raise over $60,000," says Bob Wefald, program chairman and past post commander. "Schoolchildren will donate an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 non-perishable food items, then hundreds of volunteers will sort the donated food items, fill food baskets, and deliver them to about 350 families in need."
Nearly half of the $60,000 in donations is raised each December in one 12-hour period, Wefald says. Radio station KFYR does a live broadcast from a local mall on the first Saturday in December. This month marks the station's 24th consecutive broadcast for Open Your Heart.
Donated funds are used to purchase produce, fresh and frozen food, and canned goods. The money is also used to buy clothes for the families.
On Dec. 22, about 100 volunteers will sort and stack the food in a large exhibit hall provided by the Bismarck Civic Center That evening, food baskets will be assembled by 300 to 400 volunteers. The following day, volunteer drivers will pick up baskets and deliver them to several families. By about 10 a.m., deliveries will be finished, and Lloyd Spetz Post 1 will start planning next year's campaign.
"This is absolutely the most satisfying volunteer work I've ever done," Wefald says.
"This has been touching the lives of so many families and volunteers since December 1930. It's an incredible testimony to the farsightedness of our World War I-era Legionnaires, and to the positive impact Open Your Heart makes every Christmas."
Legionnaires in Bismarck think their annual Open Your Heart project may be the longest-running American Legion Christmas charity in the country.