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Associated Press, Published December 22 2012

N.D volunteers open hearts to feed needy

BISMARCK — Austin Fisher, 11, likes sorting packets of Ramen noodles for the American Legion's Open Your Heart campaign.

"Last year they were calling him Ramen noodle man," said his mother Linda Fisher.

Linda Fisher started bringing her son to Open Your Heart to sort food for distribution at 4 years old to teach him the importance of giving back at an early age.

"We wanted to give him the notion Christmas is not all about us," she said.

Now volunteering at Open Your Heart is a yearly tradition.

"He's been asking about it for weeks," Linda Fisher said.

Open Your Heart, which is in its 83rd year, provides food and clothing to families in need in Bismarck and Burleigh County, said project chairman Bob Wefald.

The American Legion places food donation boxes around Bismarck public schools for three weeks. Friday morning more than 100 volunteers sorted the food at the Bismarck Civic Center to be delivered to the homes of 241 area families.

"I think it's going to turn out to be a record amount,"

Wefald said. "Look at all this food. It's incredible."

Wefald said the American Legion picked up 244 boxes of donated food and raised more than $71,000 for the campaign.

"I just think it's remarkable how generous people are," he said.

Wefald said another 300 to 400 volunteers usually man the evening shift and 100 deliver the donations. Delivering the food is what has kept Michelle Gayette volunteering over the last three years.

"You get to see the families and they're so appreciative," she said.

"It's awesome to come here," said Diane Haan, a volunteer since the mid-'60s. "There are people with such stories about there was a time when Open Your Heart brought things to my family."

Anton Steiner started volunteering at Open Your Heart more than 50 years ago. In 1981 his daughter Bonnie Steiner joined him.

"I started because of him," she said.

Bonnie Steiner's brother Blaine Steiner joined the family tradition in 2000 and their mother Arlene Steiner started about 10 years ago.

"We strongly believe in giving back to the community," Bonnie Steiner said. "We look forward to it (Open Your Heart.)"

David Smith, a freshman at St. Mary's Central High School, got out of school for Christmas break Thursday and was already at the Civic Center volunteering at 8 a.m. Friday.

"I have two weeks," he said. "I can give an hour and a half for the less fortunate ... It's just something nice to do."

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.