Sara G. Neill
BAMSL President, 2019-20
Shareholder, Capes Sokol
Originally published in the January 2020 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
Each December since I began practicing law, I have attended the ABA Criminal Tax and Civil Tax Controversy Institute in Las Vegas. The conference is critical to my law practice, but invariably conflicts with BAMSL's Motion for Kids (MFK). As such, while MFK is one of BAMSL's and the Saint Louis Bar Foundation's signature projects, I never had the opportunity to attend. As president, there was no way I would miss it this year, so I juggled my trip a little. MFK was, by far, my favorite day as BAMSL president to date.
On the morning of MFK, I showed up to Chaifetz Arena about 30 minutes before the party began and was astounded to see hundreds of people outside by the entrance doors waiting to be let into the party. It was frigid, but the kids were bundled up and in good spirits.
Because I failed to read the signs and parked in the wrong place, I had to walk all the way around Chaifetz to find the volunteer entrance. When I finally reached it, I could not feel my hands or ears. I was ushered inside, and was handed a teal MFK-branded T-shirt and a walkie-talkie. BAMSL Executive Director Zoe Linza warned me that the people with the teal T-shirts were "in charge." Considering I had never been to MFK and had no idea where anything was, I was somewhat terrified and briefly contemplated trading in my teal T-shirt for a Santa suit.
Zoe gave me a tour of the facility as we prepared for the party. I met countless volunteers manning the kids' activity stations, which included face-painting, arts and crafts, and photos with the Saint Louis University cheerleaders and Blues Crew cheerleaders. We visited with some of the volunteer Santas, and I took a quick photo with one, Judge Riley. In the picnic area, Judge Rodney Sippel and the Boy Scouts were preparing to serve hot dogs and chips to the guests. The book area was stacked with piles and piles of donated books, and the kids could take home as many as they wanted. In the volunteer room, Judge Colleen Dolan was serving food to the hundreds of volunteers.
And then there was the gift room. Thousands of gifts donated by St. Louis lawyers and law firms were strategically organized and ready to be distributed to the kids who had requested them—everything from bicycles to Barbie Dreamhouses to coats, socks and underwear. I have to say, the gift room was unbelievable and my favorite part of MFK. Zoe and I met the numerous police officers who were there supporting the event. They were so excited and each proudly told me how many years they had participated in MFK.
Finally, Zoe and I went to the registration area where Seth Albin commented that MFK was one of the most stressful days of his BAMSL presidency. It was not until 5 minutes later when the front doors opened, and hundreds of people began rushing in, that I understood. The kids were all so excited about the event and grabbed their parents' or guardians' hands to drag them inside. I have never seen so many strollers in one place in my entire life.
The next three hours flew by. The volunteers at the event made MFK run smoothly. There were only a couple lost children, and they were quickly reunited with their parents. With the help of our supporters, including the St. Louis Blues, St. Louis Cardinals, Isaac Bruce Foundation, SLU and Delaware North Companies. BAMSL members granted more than 2,200 Christmas wishes for children in our community, many of whom may not receive other gifts. The teal shirt I was wearing caused a lot of people to ask me questions, mostly about where they could find the elevator, the gift room and the bathroom. Fortunately, there were no emergencies that I had to handle and the event ran very smoothly.
I was overwhelmed with pride for our organization and the St. Louis legal community, and thankful for the men and women who started MFK 30 years ago, for this year's co-chairs Cardina Johnson and Christina Lewis-Abate, for the countless volunteers, and for the BAMSL staff for, as always, working so hard to make this such a special day for so many children.