Organization distributes 200 specialty backpacks to LA's homeless

Two Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition clients with their new Citypaks.
Two Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition clients with their new Citypaks.
John Vlautin
Two Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition clients with their new Citypaks.
A man who received a new Citypak along with his dinner at the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition on Thursday.
John Vlautin
Two Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition clients with their new Citypaks.
(L-R) Founder of The Citypak Project Ron Kaplan, Aarin Spiegelman, with the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, Betty, GWHFC client and backpack recipient, and Sarah Black, with GWHFC.
John Vlautin

Every night, on the corner of Sycamore and Romaine at the border of Hollywood and West Hollywood, hot food is served to 150 to 200 people in need. On Thursday, those people got tailor-made, multi-functional backpacks to go along with their meals.

The backpacks have a built-in poncho, velcro strips intended to prevent theft, water-resistance and cinch-top closure, among other features. Their distribution was the result of a collaboration between the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, an organization that has fed the homeless in L.A. for 25 years, and Citypak, the organization that distributes the backpacks. 

"Our mission is really just to make every day a little bit easier for them, and definitely if you could have been there to see the faces on the people that picked up the backpacks, their night was definitely made better by the distribution,” John Vlautin, spokesman for the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, told KPCC. 

The distribution of the backpacks in L.A. coincided with the L.A. City Council's passage of a measure limiting the amount of belongings homeless people can keep on the street

"It sort of all just happened at the same time," Vlautin said. "The homeless are facing this reality of having to keep the amount of possessions they have on them lower, and these packs certainly help them, be able to contend with this legislation." 

Citypak has distributed more than 25,000 backpacks in 66 cities across North America since its founding in 2012, according to its website. It started in Chicago.

Founder Ron Kaplan said he was trying to think of a way to help those in need. 

“Everybody has food, clothing, toiletries, but they never have anything to put it in, and this is designed to help organizations incentivize people on the streets to come in for the services they provide,” Kaplan told KPCC. 


Kaplan said that in all of the cities they distribute Citypaks, they partner with organizations that regularly work with the homeless community. In previous L.A. distributions, he said Citypak has partnered with organizations like Covenant House.

In all, the group has partnered with more than 120 organizations, and Kaplan said there is a waiting list with about 150 entities hoping to host backpack distributions. 

The backpacks are produced by High Sierra, which is responsible for one third of the cost, while Kaplan's foundation, the Selma Breskin Kaplan Foundation, pays for the rest. Each backpack costs $41 to make.

While designing the backpacks, Citypak sought out input from the homeless community. 

“They looked at the bag and they all freaked out," Kaplan said, of the first focus group they worked with. He said they had never seen something designed just for them.