Annual Christmas Carols Service Collection Benefits Local Youth Homeless Shelter

Y2Y volunteers Grace O'Brian '19 and Andrew Lewis '21 clean up the youth shelter after clients leave for the day. The shelter on Church Street provides services for nearly 30 homeless youth a night.Y2Y student volunteers Grace O'Brian '19 (front) and Andrew Lewis '21 clean up the youth shelter after clients leave for the day. The shelter on Church Street provides services for nearly 30 homeless youth a night. Photo Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

By Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

The 109th Annual Christmas Carol Service raised more than $13,000 for Y2Y Harvard Square, a youth homeless shelter founded and run by Harvard students.

The annual carol service in the sanctuary of the Memorial Church is the oldest carol service in the nation. Each year, donations are taken at the end of each of two services in benefit of a local non-profit. Collections following the services Dec. 9 and 11 totaled $13,295, a record according to church officials.

“The first night of carols was absolutely packed, the church was probably fuller than I’ve ever seen. The sanctuary was almost as full the second night, and we raised the same amount as the first night,” said Edward Elwyn Jones, Gund Organist and Choirmaster in the Memorial Church. “I think people know that Y2Y is a really worthwhile organization, but it was amazing what was raised, and I feel the choir was really behind it.”

 Harvard University Choir sings during the 109th Annual Christmas Carol Service

The Harvard University Choir sings to a capacity audience in the sanctuary of the Memorial Church during the 109th Annual Christmas Carol Service Dec. 9. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

Y2Y Harvard Square is a homeless shelter catering to the unique problems of homeless young people, ages 18-24. The shelter, located on Church Street across the street from Harvard’s Johnston Gate, offers clients possible pathways out of homelessness through local service providers. The program is staffed by student volunteers.

Sam Greenberg, co-founder of Y2Y, said the money will be used to help keep the shelter and services in full operation during the challenging winter months.

"During the winter, we need to be ready to provide critical resources to our guests, who are facing dangerous conditions on top of the many other challenges faced when experiencing homelessness,” he said. “With the generous support of Memorial Church, we are able to continue serving 27 young people per night, providing meals and basic services while supporting young people in building a pathway out of homelessness and developing skills for leadership."

UChoir members help at local shelterHarvard University Choir members May Wang '20, Faith Pak '19, Theodora Mautz '19 and Choirmaster Edward Jones volunteer at Y2Y in January. Photo Courtesy of Edward Jones

Another annual holiday tradition at the Memorial Church is the toy drive. Each year children attending Sunday morning Church School collect toys for the Phillips Brooks House Association’s holiday gift drive. With the help of the Harvard Men's Basketball and the Black Men's Forum, more than 400 toys were collected in donation bins or purchased with money (more than $700) from a special holiday offering.

The Rev. Westley Conn, Ministry Fellow and Church School coordinator for the Memorial Church, said the toy drive provides a valuable lesson for his students about the plight of local children in families struggling to make ends meet, not only during the holiday but also the entire year.

"During the toy drive, young people learned that some in our community can't easily get ready for the celebration of Christmas or even give gifts to those they love,” he said. “The young people, however, know that God calls us to love and care for one another; and one of the students in the pre-k and kindergarten class, upon learning about the needs of our neighbors, contributed the money he earned through a recycling program to the toy drive.”

Members of the Church SChool collect toys at a Harvard Mens Baskball GameMembers of the Church School collect toys at Harvard Men's Basketball game in December. Photo Courtesy of Westley Conn

The two charitable efforts during the holiday are in addition to the work of the Memorial Church Grants Committee, which supports non-profit organizations in the Greater Boston area. Last year, the program, managed by students and congregants, awarded $50,000 to 62 projects submitted by local non-profits. The program is accepting applications until Feb. 15. For more information, go to the Grants Committee page on the Memorial Church website.