DETROIT (WJBK) - Estimates show roughly 7 percent of homeless individuals die from hypothermia each year. Empowerment Plan, a Michigan nonprofit, has been proven to reduce that statistic by more than 20 percent with its Empower Coat.
The Empower Coat is a water resistant and self-heating jacket which can transform into a sleeping bag. The nonprofit also hires mostly homeless parents from local shelters to become full-time seamstresses so that they can earn a stable income, find secure housing and gain back their independence.
Now, the business is stretching beyond Detroit. Tuesday they filled a special order to Chicago.
Dan Chester, a philanthropist from Chicago who grew up in Ann Arbor, came to Detroit to pick up 130 sleeping bag coats for homeless folks in Chicago.
"Last year we gave out hats, gloves and socks, and this year, a friend of mine and I were sitting on the couch and it was, what do we do this year? What do we do to up our game?" he said.
Visiting the warehouse of Empowerment Plan in Detroit, the money Chester has raised was used to purchase 135 Detroit-made coats that transform into sleeping bags and even fold up into backpacks.
"Inside there's a foot bag that's easily detachable. At night they can just put the coat when they're lying down," says Tamika Evans, a seamstress at Empowerment Plan.
"They're extremely durable -- water resistant, weather resistant, and they go down to sub-zero temperatures," says Erika George, Empowerment Plan development director.
Empowerment Plan employs 22 people who were formerly homeless.
Evans knows what it's like living on the streets.
"I was there myself one time, and just to be able to do something is really going to make a difference in someone's day or night," she says.
"A couple weeks ago in Chicago, we had a homeless man who died while sleeping in the park. We thought that this coat could potentially have saved this man's life," Chester says.
Chester said when they first had the idea, they thought they'd raise about $2,000. However, they've now raised up to $13,500.
Looking around at the one-of-a-kind warehouse and the heavy materials from Carhart and General Motors, Chester gets to see the work that goes into each winter coat.
"Even though the production is happening here in Detroit, to see people so excited, coming together from all over, and bringing it back to their community -- It's just really great to be a part of it," George said.
Chester says he appreciates all who've donated and is excited to bring some much needed warmth and love from the D.
"Thank you for reminding me that people care, and people care about one another," Chester says.
To help Chester's mission, CLICK HERE to donate.