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Singers set downtown Northampton to music to help homeless

Green Street Brew will perform on the downtown streets at 6 p.m. Dec. 20.
Gazette File Photo

Green Street Brew will perform on the downtown streets at 6 p.m. Dec. 20. Gazette File Photo Purchase photo reprints »

— Skera Gallery owner Harriet Rogers, a board member for a local homeless shelter, is a big fan of music. So, when she hit upon an idea that would raise money for Friends of the Homeless by bringing a capella groups to Main Street, she made it happen.

The result is simple, she said: “Downtown is set to music.”

So far this season, three groups have performed: Heart of the Valley Singers, the Smithereens, a Smith College group, and Nice Shoes from Mount Holyoke College — and about 10 more groups are lined up to sing.

“It makes downtown more festive and wonderful,” said Rogers. “I would set the world to music if I could. It would make everyone happier.”

The effort has been under way for about five years, ever since the board of Friends of the Homeless brainstormed for a good fundraiser at the start of the cold season.

Yvonne Freccero, a prime organizer for Friends of Homeless, said her group needs to raise about $40,000 each year to support the Hampshire Interfaith Shelter, open during the cold winter months in the former Elks building on Center Street.

“For us, every little bit helps,” she said. Freccero said when the downtown singing first began, the money was raised through donations from businesses. Then, Rogers decided to “put a hat down on the street,” said Freccero. “Before we knew it, people were donating.”

She thinks the endeavor has been a huge hit.

“Not only do the groups singing really seem to enjoy it, people stop and clap,” said Freccero. “It’s a lovely idea. It’s just the Christmas spirit.”

Rogers says the effort has developed a system that brings music around the downtown while also generating money for a worthy cause. While the singers perform, they accept donations from passersby which go to Friends of the Homeless.

The groups start off at her gallery, at 221 Main St., where they pick up signs that identify who they are and what they are raising money for, she said, “and then we give them two lovely handmade hats by Red Rover, a Massachusetts company, and they put them on the ground and collect money.”

Rogers said the groups generally perform for about two hours, and they do not stick to one spot. They move around, stopping two or three times on each block, so they can sing some tunes, draw onlookers, and invite donations.

Songs are not necessarily holiday-themed, as most of the groups have repertoires they perform throughout the year.

After they are finished, the singers deliver the goods, and the local Starbucks gives them free hot drinks.

“Downtown has always wanted to have a cappella groups,” said Rogers. “It was a win-win situation. The shelter gets much-needed cash flow. Downtown gets beautiful voices, beautiful music, and the singers get to practice their singing.”

Rogers says in past years, the effort has netted close to $2,000 for local homeless efforts — with the Business Improvement District kicking in $700 to $800, which is just about a match to what has been collected in the hats.

The following groups are on the roster to perform in the coming weeks:

∎ Nov. 30, The Northamptones, a Northampton High School group, 3 p.m.; The Vocal Suspects, a University of Massachusetts Amherst group, 6 p.m.

∎ Dec. 1, Edwards Church choir, 4 p.m.; Smiffenpoofs, a Smith College group, time TBA.

∎ Dec. 2, Wings, a local adult group, 2 p.m.

∎ Dec. 6, The Noteables, a Smith College group, 6:30 p.m.

∎ Dec. 7, Dynamics, a UMass group, time TBA.

∎ Dec. 8, Zumbeyes, an Amherst College group, time TBA.

∎ Dec. 9, The DQ, from Amherst College, time TBA.

∎ Dec. 20, Green Street Brew, 6 p.m.

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