COTS Back to School Bonanza

Children are often the unseen faces of homelessness, but they make up a large portion of people experiencing homelessness. In 2022, 1 in 4 people experiencing homelessness were children.1,312 students enrolled in VT public schools were homeless, 200 of those students were enrolled in Chittenden County schools. According to this year’s PIT count, sadly, the number of persons experiencing homelessness and in a household with children increased by 36%.

In 2015, COTS started the Back to School Drive to bring awareness to the children in our community experiencing homelessness, and to help them get the supplies they need to be successful in school. Each year since, the community helps us fill hundreds of backpacks with thousands of school supplies for us to distribute to families in shelters, motels, and to our nonprofit partners in the community who directly serve children.

Last year we wanted to serve students who are not necessarily connected to a service provider. We wanted to set them up for a successful year, both physically and emotionally. We wanted to maintain dignity. At a time in some of their lives where there isn’t a lot of choice, our goal was to let students be able to choose their own school supplies, pick out some clothing that starts them off on the right foot, and get haircuts to alleviate some of those first day jitters.

The Back to School Bonanza was born. A free community event where any Vermont students, grades K-12, who are in need can come de-stress and have fun while they pick out school supplies and a backpack, first day of school outfits, hygiene supplies, and lunch. There was a bouncy house, a face painter, a haircutter, snow cones, cotton candy, and more! At it, we saw firsthand how many students need supplies in our community, and it is more than the 200 reported.

This year, the second year running, with your help we were able to provide 355 students with new backpacks and school supplies in a fun environment. Each student received a great abundance of supplies and a backpack to feel set for the school year. Similarly, to last year we had a bouncy house, face painting, lunch, hygiene items, outfits, and haircutters. This year we added ice cream, homemade cookies and lemonade provided by Emily Eden, a Storytime with 2 free books per child through CLiF, and other community partners tabling with information.

In addition to the 355 students we helped day of, we were also able to provide supplies to 50 students who work with COTS case workers, 25 students in our doors the following days, and hundreds of students through partner agencies who picked up remaining supplies. Thank you to our sponsors Oh my DOG, Dore & Whittier Architects Inc., Seacomm Federal Credit Union, Burlington Subaru, and Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman for helping make this event possible. Thank you to our 70 volunteers who ran this event, and our amazing COTS staff. We couldn’t do it without you!