February 3, 2009 in City

Kids design garment for homeless

Ultra Coat converts into sleeping sack
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Rich Atwood wears a combination coat and sleeping bag Monday at the House of Charity in Spokane. The coat was designed by the students of West Valley City School’s Kathy Braid, left, including Melody Fyre, second from left, Skye Reynolds, center, and Jared Lord, far right.
(Full-size photo)

Porch test passed

House of Charity director Ed McCarron tested the Ultra Coat on 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 around the feet, where the drawstring didn’t close tight enough, but otherwise he was comfortable as the temperature dropped into the 20s.

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.

The 21 students, grades 4 through 8, 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.”

The Ultra Coat is a head-to-toe garment with an outer layer of waterproof nylon covering more layers of Poly Fleece and Mylar. It’s hooded at the top and has a drawstring at the bottom. The materials cost $56 a coat, Braid said.

The kids designed the coat on a computer and cut out the pattern using butcher paper. 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. A retired patent attorney who volunteers at the House of Shelter is looking into the Ultra Coat’s possibilities.

At the shelter Monday, resident volunteer Rich Atwood, who modeled the coat for the students, suggested modifications, including hooks to hold up the bottom of the garment around the waist. Otherwise, “it’s hard to get to your pants pockets,” he said.

House of Charity community connection coordinator Jerry Schwab said it hasn’t decided whether to give the coats by lottery to shelter clients or to lend them to selected clients for further outdoor research.

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