Carolling, Christmas pageants, and ukuleles took over Central United Church’s sanctuary for twelve solid hours on Saturday.

From 9am until 9pm, the fun never stopped. The 12 Hours of Christmas Music Marathon featured Central United Church’s Junior and Senior choirs, the Ukes of Hazzard, a Christmas pageant comedy, and a ukulele jam that included over 40 ukes.

The community event was well attended, with over 600 people floating in and out throughout the day. Guests were invited to stay for an hour or the whole day, with admission and snacks by freewill donation. All proceeds went to Inn Out of the Cold – a program in Elgin-St. Thomas that provides shelter to the homeless and meets basic physical needs. Inn Out of the Cold is housed in Central United Church‘s gymnasium, where they have capacity for 30 beds and access to a shower and laundry. It is funded in part by United Way.

Sandy Westaway, Chair of the Inn Out of the Cold board, was very pleased with the outcome of the event: over $6300 was raised over the twelve hours. “That really gave us hope,” she says. “It gave us a real boost this time of year to know that we were getting $6300 all of the sudden.”

central united church sanctuary

The idea for the music marathon came to Central United Church’s Music Director Lauri Ladd last year. Because she was often at the church in the evening, she regularly saw Inn Out of the Cold’s guests making their way to the shelter and wanted to do more. As a music director of two choirs, she decided to use what she had and put on a fundraiser concert. The idea later morphed into a music marathon, which has now successfully raised thousands of dollars for the homeless shelter two years in a row.

Lauri Ladd, Music Director of Central United Church, at The 12 Hours of Christmas Music Marathon.
Lauri Ladd, Music Director of Central United Church, at The 12 Hours of Christmas Music Marathon.

Inn Out of the Cold provides shelter for 19 to 30 people a night and meals for 55 to 60 homeless or near-homeless in St. Thomas. Though Central United Church donates the space, water, heat, and hydro, the organization still relies heavily on donations. Their grocery bill averages around $1000 a week and they have five paid staff. The rest of the work is done by a network of 97 volunteers.

Lauri says that the main point of The 12 Hours of Christmas Music Marathon is fundraising for Inn Out of the Cold, but “the bonus side effect of it has been us being able to say, ‘Come into our space. We welcome you.'”

central united church inn out of the cold fundraiser

Preparing for the event is a lot of work, but Lauri has enlisted the help of many people from Central’s congregation. “The church was really keen to do it but they didn’t realize what kind of work it would be,” she laughs.

Others from the community also play a large part, signing up as music groups to fill the twelve time slots and collecting pledges as part of the fundraising. Two local businesses owned by Shawn DeVree, Vesta and Myrtle, provided all of the door prizes and gift certificates for the performers.

12 hours of christmas music marathon st. thomas ontario ukuleles

It’s turned into an awesome community event, point being that it’s not just about Central,” Lauri explains. “We just happen to have choirs that we can use, but mostly it’s been other groups from the community.”

Though the event takes place in a church, Lauri says, “We’re not pushing anything religious. We just want to open the doors and say hey, we’ve got an awesome space to have a house party before Christmas, come in!”

little girl and mom central united church

To learn more about Central United Church and keep up with their events, follow their Facebook page or visit their website. To donate or volunteer for Inn Out of the Cold, contact their office at 519-637-9898 or

Photos: Grayden Laing | Laing Studios/Establish Media