Social Justice Uncorked 2020

December 11, 2020

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services’ (SMRLS) 13th annual Social Justice Uncorked fundraiser occurred on Thursday, December 10, 2020. SMRLS live streamed the event to accommodate COVID-19 safety precautions. Although the signature wine, beer tastings, and music were absent, the festive and giving spirit remained intact. If you missed Uncorked, it’s available to watch on-demand by clicking here.

SMRLS’ longtime auctioneer, Col. Kurt Johnson (Kurt Johnson Auctioneering), served as the event’s MC and led off the event speaking about SMRLS’ new innovative services implemented last year, including the virtual Eviction Clinic in southern Minnesota, the Consumer Law Unit, and the COVID Legal Clinic.

Several prominent special guests spoke, including St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who talked about the importance of SMRLS for meeting the needs of the community.

“The services SMRLS provide truly are the last defense for our vulnerable populations when they have nowhere left to go,” Mayor Carter said. “SMRLS is critical in ensuring everyone in our community has an equal opportunity for justice.”

Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Paul Thissen also spoke about how imperative legal representation is in improving a person’s life. Because of SMRLS’ free legal services, low-income people have the advocacy to live free from the threat of sickness, homelessness, and abuse.

One of the evening’s highlights included the presentation of the “Certificate of Appreciation,” issued by Governor Tim Walz, to SMRLS’ longest-serving Executive Director, Bruce BenekeSteve Kirsch (Larson King), Co-Chair of SMRLS’ Campaign for Legal Aid (CLA), remotely presented the certificate to Bruce for his decades-long service to SMRLS. Bruce and Steve’s connection goes back thirty years to the early days of the CLA fundraising committee.

CLA Co-Chair Peter Schmit (Robins Kaplan) presented the Longevity Award to Mairs & Power, Inc. for their commitment to SMRLS and supporting Uncorked ten years and counting. Rob Mairs, who also serves on the CLA committee, remotely accepted the award.

“The work SMRLS does to keep people in their homes, keep them in their jobs, to keep them safe and their family is integral to the community that we invest in and it benefits all of us,” Mr. Mairs said.

Another memorable moment featured a testimonial from a former client, Lucille and her son, who were helped by SMRLS attorneys Laura Melnick and Lilian Ejebe. They helped Lucille gain access to a stable home and advocated for her disabled son to receive an individualized education plan to help him succeed in school.

“I don’t know what I would do without SMRLS, Laura, and Lilian. I’m so glad I reached out,” Lucille said.

The live auction featured some familiar items, including a guided muskie fishing trip, the “Windfall of Wine,” and “Wild on the Glass” hockey tickets. It also featured exciting new items, including a Joe Mauer autographed baseball and cocktail mixing demonstration by Twin Spirits Distillery. Thank you to everyone who participated in the live auction!

Together, we raised $151,200! This is an astonishing outcome, not only because this was SMRLS’ first virtual event, but also because it speaks to the generosity of our donors and sponsors amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Without their support, SMRLS could not provide free legal services to thousands of low-income individuals and families. SMRLS offers its sincere gratitude to everyone to contributed to Uncorked and supports SMRLS year-round.

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