Volunteer

General Volunteer Help

You can volunteer for COTS in many ways, and we appreciate all types of skills and areas of expertise. COTS volunteer needs are constantly changing, so if you’d like to stay up-to-date on our volunteer opportunities, we encourage you to fill out our brief volunteer application to keep you on our volunteer list.

Join our general volunteer list

COTS Back to School Volunteers

Our 3rd annual Back to School Bonanza is on 8/3/24 and we need your help to make it a success!

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.

In 2022, 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.

Last year, 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. Again we had a bouncy house, face painting, lunch, hygiene items, outfits, haircutters, 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.

Last year, 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. 

Volunteer for the 2024 Back to School Bonanza



Four COTS volunteers in the shelter kitchen, holding serving trays filled with hot food.

Mental health and well-being support at COTS Family Shelters

Volunteers can be community members or organizations. You can create in-the-moment connections through activities or support families in connecting to resources in the community. If applying to help, please include which of these opportunities you are interested in, and why.

Fill out our application


Afterschool Mentor

Where: COTS Family Shelter, 278 Main Street Burlington, VT

When: Monday-Friday 4 pm to 6 pm (flexible)

Who: Adults 18+, background check needed, experience working with children and youth

What: As an Afterschool Mentor you will work and play with school-age youth in shelter. Youth may want to complete homework or have fun, your job is to follow their lead while being a positive role model. Preparing activities ahead of time is not required and may not be suitable for all youth.

Respite Provider

Where: COTS Family Shelter, 278 Main Street Burlington, VT

When: anytime Monday-Friday 9 am to 9 pm (flexible, based on need)

Who: Adults 18+, background check needed, experience working with infants and young children

What: As a Respite Provider, you will provide short-term respite (up to 2 hours) for 1-2 children living in shelter. Caregivers will remain in shelter and be available to assist when needed during respite. A COTS staff member will be present for support. The family will provide supplies and food as needed for the duration of the respite.

Activity Facilitator 

Where: COTS Family Shelter, 278 Main Street Burlington, VT

When: Monday-Friday 4 pm to 8 pm (flexible) or anytime on the weekends

Who: Adults 18+, background check needed, experience working in education or mental health

What: As an Activity Facilitator, you will prepare and facilitate a short activity (up to 2 hours) for our families in shelter. Possible activities include arts and crafts for all ages, social and emotional learning for youth, and much more! Ideal activities will promote mental health and well-being, child development, and social connection.

Provide Daystation Guests With Lunch

Our largest ongoing need is for volunteers to provide lunch for our Daystation guests. We serve lunch 365 days a year, seven days a week. Volunteers provide ingredients, prep, and serve meals. To learn more about what you need to prepare or to sign up, view all the information below.

If you have any questions about volunteering, organizing a drive, or putting on your own event for COTS, email our Community Outreach Specialist at romyt@cotsonline.org.

Sign up to provide Daystation lunch

Daily Lunch

Help us provide lunch to guests visiting the Daystation, COTS’s daytime drop-in shelter for adults, open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The Daystation is located at 95 North Avenue in Burlington. You will see a gate that says welcome in different languages, enter through there.

This is a great service opportunity or team-building activity. There is staff on-site to help you navigate prepping and/or serving lunch.

  • We request meals be well-balanced.
  • It's nice to have a vegetarian option and a meat option.

Lunch Examples

  • Pasta with a vegetable sauce option and a meat sauce option, a green salad, and chocolate chip cookies.
  • Chicken and vegetarian burrito bowls, sautéed bell peppers and mushrooms, tortilla chips, sour cream, guacamole, and sugar cookies.
  • Variety of sandwiches (turkey, ham, roast beef, veggie meat), lettuce, tomato, banana peppers, pickles for guests to add to their sandwiches, watermelon, lemonade, a green salad, and brownies.
  • Marinated chicken thighs and marinated mushrooms, bean salad, pasta salad, and strawberry short cake.
  • Vegetarian chili, tortillas, bottled water, corn bread, and cookies.
  • Meat and veggie lasagna, homemade bread sticks, green salad, brownies.

Prepping and Serving

Volunteers must be 18 years old to serve lunch. Families or groups with children can prepare the meal offsite and drop it off for our staff to serve.

Volunteers older than age 18 may use our kitchen to heat up or assemble meals to serve to Daystation guests. We recommend bringing no more than 8 people from your group because of limitations with space.

You can also do a cook out on our patio using our grill! Just be sure to mention this when you sign up below.

Treat the Daystation to Lunch

Not a cook but still want to take the Daystation to lunch?

  • Let our Cookies for Good partner, Sugarsnap Catering, whip up a delicious meal for our Daystation guests. The entree will be a hot seasonal dish (such as roasted turkey, potatoes, and green beans) accompanied by salad and a dessert. To order, call Sugarsnap Catering at 802-861-2951.
  • Ordering a pizza from a local pizzeria or other similar to-go dishes is so appreciated too - just be sure to use the form below to sign up.

Lunch FAQs

Lunch Calendar