Pro Bono Party Genesee County Bar Association Community Holiday Dinner

Christmas is a time of giving and sharing with those less fortunate. The Genesee County Bar Association (GCBA) is busy preparing for its 24th-annual Community Holiday Dinner on Thursday, December 18 from 4-7pm. The dinner, which is open to everyone in the community, has been held at Battiste’s Temple Dining Room in Downtown Flint every year since it began in 1994.

Judge Duncan M. Beagle is known throughout the community as a caring and generous man. As a Genesee County Circuit Court judge, he has sat through many cases in which people were struggling and hurting, especially during the holidays. He heard about the Saginaw County Bar Association’s dinner, so he sent then-GCBA president Brian Barkey and Tom Pabst, GCBA vice president at the time, to Saginaw to get ideas for starting a holiday dinner in Genesee County. “It was there that the dream of Flint’s Holiday Dinner was born,” Brian remembers. “Judge Beagle has the biggest heart!”

Tom and Brian brought their ideas to GCBA and a committee was formed. Brian remembers committee members immediately opening their checkbooks to make the dinner happen. Tom said that the Genesee County Trial Lawyers Association had pledged to match whatever money was raised by GCBA. Since then, the dinners have been funded completely by donations from members of the legal community. Each year, attorneys and judges and many others volunteer their time to serve a delicious dinner to thousands. While Christmas music plays softly, Santa Claus makes a visit to deliver simple gifts of toys, hats and gloves to attendees. A traditional turkey dinner is served with all the trimmings, beautifully prepared by Battiste’s Temple Dining Room and always very delicious, Brian says. The dinner is promoted by distributing flyers to area shelters, homeless centers and senior citizen centers. Transportation is arranged for those who need it and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church provides a warming area for those waiting in line outside. Last year more than 1,300 people enjoyed the Holiday Dinner.

“People ask me why I volunteer each year,” says Tom, a longtime Genesee County attorney.

“The simple answer is joy, pure joy. To see hundreds of people line up and to see their faces light up when they receive simple gifts is immeasurable. I go home every year exhausted with aching feet. But that’s a very small price to pay for the joy and happiness I see on the face of every person who enters the Masonic Temple for the Holiday Dinner.”

“Every year, we try to make the event better and better,” says Brian. And he believes the volunteers receive much more than they give. “It makes your heart grow in your chest.” ♦


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