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Open Your Heart

Each December since 1929, the Lloyd Spetz Post of the American Legion has held the Open Your Heart holiday drive to provide Christmas food baskets and children’s clothing to needy families in Burleigh County and the Bismarck-Mandan area.  Christmas 1929 marked a devastating holiday season for many families, as the October stock market crash wiped out many peoples’ savings and led to layoffs across the country.  By early December, it had become clear that Bismarck’s needy were growing exponentially.  American Legion members wanted to help their neighbors, even if it was just to ensure they had enough to eat on Christmas Day.  They founded the Open Your Heart charity, and began encouraging others to open their hearts for the cause.  On Christmas Eve, Legion members delivered Christmas food baskets and warm clothing to several area families.

Last year, 83 years after that first charity drive, Open Your Heart raised nearly $60,000 and helped nearly 400 families in Burleigh County.  It has become the longest-running and most successful Christmas charity in the United States.

Open Your Heart was not the first Christmas charity in the state, however.  For years, communities across North Dakota had held annual charity drives to raise money and food for needy families.  In 1921, Minot organizations joined forces to help with toys and food.  The city’s Knight Templars, Elks, Good Fellows, and Salvation Army raised nearly $300 for the cause.  Baskets provided by the Elks included a half-bushel of potatoes, a large chunk of pork, a sack of flour, and candy and apples for the children.  They also included dolls and toys made by students of the Minot Normal School.

Unfortunately, the need in most communities often outweighs the supply.  On December 6th, 1962, Open Your Heart started its annual operations, but on December 10th, the headquarters were swarmed with families in search of warm clothing.  A cold front had set in, dropping several inches of snow overnight and causing temperatures to plummet.  Without enough donations, the charity was forced to turn families away.  A call went out to the Bismarck community, however, and by Christmas, the charity had raised over five tons of food and nearly $5,000 in donations.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


 The Bismarck Tribune .  November 20, 2009.  “Open Your Heart Sustains Community,” Editorial.

 The Ward County Independent .  December 22, 1921: p. 1. “Minot’s Needy will Receive Many Christmas Baskets; No One Should be Overlooked.”