A group is seeking donations of backpacks, hygiene products, winter essentials and gift cards to help students experiencing homelessness this winter.
The fundraiser — in its fourth year — aims to help provide essentials to Bozeman High and Gallatin High teens experiencing homelessness during the holiday break.
“During the holiday, they don’t have school for those two weeks and I want to make sure they’re taken care of for those two weeks,” said Tiffani Pimley, an organizer of the fundraiser. “… They deserve to have a good Christmas.”
While a lot of holiday fundraisers or events focus on younger children, Pimley said this one is specifically for teens who need the extra support.
“I don’t want these kids to think there’s nobody out there or they’re forgotten or they’re doing it on their own. People who don’t know them care and people want them to be taken care of,” Pimley said.
The goal is to have 40 backpacks with enough supplies to fill them. As of Dec. 3, the group has received 10 backpacks.
The fundraiser is seeking donations of winter items like hats, gloves and scarfs and gift cards to Wal-Mart, Target, grocery stores or for activities to do in town, like the movie theater.
“We really push gift cards just so that way kids have something to do and something to eat,” Pimley said.
Donations will be collected through Dec. 10 and can be dropped off at 2135 Charlotte Street, Suite 2 or coordinated with Pimley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bozeman School District’s Family-School Services Coordinator Anna Edwards plans to distribute the backpacks to the two high schools the week of Dec. 13, before the schools are out for winter break.
Last school year, there were 121 K-12 students in the district who experienced homelessness or housing insecurity, Edwards said. That included 37 high school students and 15 who were considered unaccompanied, or without a guardian.
The district is seeing more students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity this winter than it has this time last year, Edwards said.
“I think with affordable housing here, it’s not been an easy housing situation,” Edwards said, adding the district may be finding more students experiencing homelessness because school is back to full-time this year compared to last.
It can be especially challenging for those unaccompanied teens experiencing homelessness.
“For our teens that maybe have to work full time to support themselves, our goal is to really help them get through and graduate,” Edwards said.
“What are you going to eat? Where are you gong to stay tonight? It can make it really difficult to concentrate on school.”
The backpack fundraiser is designed to help support those unaccompanied teens, Pimley said.
“The meaning behind the backpack, it’s inconspicuous. It can be discrete,” she said. “… It provides a sense of this is theirs’. It’s a brand new backpack for them. They get to have all their stuff in it and it’s a way to be able to carry it with them without it being a big sign.”
Pimley said there’s been support from Bozeman in the past three years for the event and she hopes to see that continue, especially considering the recent stresses on many students.
Pimley, who is a mental health therapist, said she’s seen teenagers who are experiencing a lot more anxiety, pressure and uncertainty in the last couple of years.
“These kids are trying to figure out how to manage life and their own emotions and the stress and pressure around school and adulthood and peers. There’s a lot of stuff that is all creeping up,” she said.