The CITYPAK Project to begin its 2nd fall giveaway of custom-designed backpacks

Chicago-based philanthropic initiative The CITYPAK Project, together with international adventure travel gear specialist High Sierra, will distribute 2,300 custom-designed CITYPAK backpacks to homeless people, beginning Oct. 4.

With over 17 distributions planned throughout Chicago metro area through December, this end-of-year run of giving-back marks the second time CITYPAK will help service its immediate neighbors in need. 

The CITYPAK Project was founded by local businessman and philanthropist Ron Kaplan. Launched in Chicago last fall with a 2,000-Pak distribution, The CITYPAK Project has since begun distributions outside of its hometown. With the ongoing support of its design and manufacturing partner – Vernon Hills-based High Sierra – CITYPAK distributed 1,000 PAKs in Colorado last month. It also plans outreach with Hawaii’s homeless population in December, and early 2014 distributions in Austin, Texas and Boston.

Last fall, Kaplan and his wife, Trudy Swanson, worked with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) to consult with homeless people about what their gear needs might be. From this, High Sierra custom-designed the CITYPAK to provide a safe, secure, and convenient way for homeless people to transport belongings. The unique design features room for a large quantity of items, a hide-away poncho designed to keep both the bag and its wearer dry, a synch-top closure for extra waterproofing, a ballistic nylon outer shell strong enough to combat the elements, as well as anti-theft measures.

Today, The CITYPAK Project encourages distribution partners in each city to create programs that use the donated CITYPAKs as incentives for their homeless clients. The programs use a voucher system that trades program participation for a CITYPAK, thus encouraging homeless people in need to more fully engage with organizations and better utilize the resources available to them.

“We don’t pretend that it’s any kind of solution to the complex issue of homelessness,” Kaplan said. “But it’s something we can do to make a small difference for individuals who are in this difficult situation. In addition, it provides an opportunity to continue the important dialogue about how our communities can best help our homeless neighbors.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Kaplan is co-founder of the Chicago-based music-booking agency Monterey International, with a roster that includes Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, and Buddy Guy. Kaplan started CITYPAK because of a simple desire to help homeless people in need.

“It really was a simple thought: wouldn’t a good, sturdy backpack help make life on the streets a little bit easier?” Kaplan said.

“We are proud to partner with The CITYPAK Project and lend our design expertise to such a worthwhile cause,” said Dawn Sicco, High Sierra’s vice president and general manager. “We wholeheartedly support Ron’s mission to empower the homeless as they face ever-changing circumstances in our hometown of Chicago and in cities across the U.S.”

CCH assisted CITYPAK in building its initial distribution program, which this year has expanded to include 17 service organizations. The public is encouraged to donate to the initiative anytime at  

Upcoming distribution events include:

Friday, Oct. 4 – Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center, 12 noon – 2 p.m.

90 CITYPAKs will be distributed by the Good Neighbors outreach program near Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St.

Thurs., Oct. 24 – PADS of Lake County, 6:30 p.m.

6:30 p.m., at United Protestant Church men’s shelter, 54 South Whitney, Grayslake; 7:30 p.m. at Mary of Vernon women and children’s shelter, 236-A Highway 45, Indian Creek

100 CITYPAKs to be distributed between the two locations

Sat., Nov. 16 – St. Vincent de Paul Center, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. 

300 CITYPAKs to be distributed at the center, 2145 N. Halsted St., during 38th annual outreach lunch and resource fair

Tues, Nov. 19 – Catholic Charities, time & location pending

Additional distribution sites and times are pending.

Complete list of Chicago CITYPAK Partners for Fall 2013:

The Night Ministry
Broadway Youth Center
Franciscan Outreach Association
Haymarket Center
Hope House
Catholic Charities
AmeriCorps VISTA
Southwest Chicago PADS
Inspiration Café
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center
LIFT Organization
Chicago Temple
PADS Lake County