Utah kids make ‘Turtle Shelter Project’ vests for the homeless

NORTH SALT LAKE -- With the return of cold temperatures this week, a group of kids in North Salt Lake got together to help homeless people stay warm, with a project they hope will change lives.

At a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints meetinghouse on Wednesday, dozens of young church friends found fun in crafting together. They drew, cut and created patterns out of foam.

“We’re working together really well,” said Kylee Rigby.

She and several other girls traced lines on the large sheets of foam.

“Oh my gosh, I’m not doing this very well,” Rigby said, chuckling as she drew her line. “Oh my gosh!”

Their skills may not be perfect, but that’s okay. As the kids work away, they’re learning an important lesson about service.

Jarrett Coleman explained as he cut pieces of foam with scissors.

“It’s helping homeless people stay warm,” he said.

The foam will be used to insulate waterproof vests, as part of the Turtle Shelter Project. The vests feature deep pockets and collars with zip-out hoods, and each vest folds into a small pouch that can double as a pillow.

Turtle Shelter Project founder Jen Spencer takes each final product, and hands them out to people affected by homelessness.

Earlier on Wednesday, she gave out several vests to people near the downtown Salt Lake City library.

“I like this,” one woman said, as she wore her new vest. “It's so warm!”

Spencer said she came up with the idea after learning about the insulation technology, paired with her own experience with homelessness during a winter.

“I was a meth addict for quite a while, and I was homeless off and on,” she said. “It's like it sucked the life out of you just being in the cold, and everything felt more hopeless.”

Each Turtle Shelter Project vest takes nine to ten hours to make by hand, Spencer said. With help from a few others, she's made and handed out 160 vests.

Spencer recently agreed to make 500 additional vests for the Project Homeless Connect event in October. To reach that goal, she’s been enlisting help from groups like the one in North Salt Lake.

The young volunteers know their small contribution to the process will make a huge difference for the people they help.

“I think it’s really cool that we’re doing this,” said Elise Peery.

“It makes you feel good,” Rigby said. “And it will help a lot of people.”

Click here to find out more about the Turtle Shelter Project, including how to help make vests.

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