The idea came to Kathy Braid’s students at West Valley City School after they volunteered at the House of Charity in December.
In their search for a community service project, the students wanted to do something for the homeless.
They could have gathered winter clothes and donated them to the Spokane homeless shelter, but students at the nontraditional City School think, well, nontraditionally.
“Some said we should donate coats. Others said no, we should donate sleeping bags. No, we should put them all together,” said Meagan Ellis, a fifth-grader on Braid’s team.
So the 21 students, grades four through eight, put their ideas together and came up with a coat that can be converted into a sleeping bag. Then they set about making three of them.
On Monday, Braid’s urban outfitters returned to the House of Charity to donate the “Ultra Coats.”
“They came up with the name almost as soon as they came up with the idea,” Braid said. “The kids are amazing.”
At the risk of giving away “trade secrets,” the coat is a head-to-toe garment with an outer layer of waterproof nylon covering two layers of Poly Fleece with a layer of Mylar in between. It’s hooded at the top and has a draw string at the bottom.
Cost for the materials alone was $56 a coat, Braid said.
The kids designed the Ultra Coat on a computer and cut out the pattern using butcher paper. However, after breaking their needle on the project, the students turned the prototype over to sixth-grader Brandon Algeier’s grandmother, whom he said was pretty handy with a sewing machine.
Braid’s neighbor, a retired seamstress, pitched in.
Now the team is ready to turn the design over to a manufacturer, if one can be found.
The students have a retired patent attorney, who volunteers at the charity, looking into the Ultra Coat’s possibilities.
Out of concern for the safety of his clients, House of Charity director Ed McCarron tested the Ultra Coat Sunday night by sleeping on his back porch with his 10-year-old son.
McCarron gave the garment the thumbs up. He said it was a little drafty on the feet where the draw string doesn’t close quite tight enough, but otherwise it kept him comfortable as the temperature dropped into the high 20s.
At the shelter Monday, resident volunteer Rich Atwood, who modeled the Ultra Coat for the students, also suggested a few modifications, including hooks to hold the bottom of the coat up around the waist.
Otherwise, “it’s hard to get to your pants pockets,” Atwood said.
House of Charity community connection coordinator Jerry Schwab said it had not yet been decided whether to give the Ultra Coats away by lottery to shelter clients or to lend it to selected clients for further outdoor research.
City School fifth-grader Nadia Popovici said the Ultra Coat should appeal to “anybody that doesn’t feel comfortable sleeping upstairs” at the shelter.