HOMETOWN HEROES: The Backpack Lady Project carries on tradition

Jen Epstein reports

- Rob Ditro arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes School with a truckload of backpacks and supplies. It's a special delivery he's been making every August for the last five years. The donations are in honor of his mom, Phyllis Ditro, known to many people in the community as Backpack Lady. For twelve years Phyllis secretly delivered two backpacks to Our Lady of Lourdes. Now Rob is following in his mom's footsteps.

"I just walk in. I do exactly what my mother did. She just walked in and said, 'these are for the kids' and then she'd leave," said Rob.

Rob didn't find out about his mom's good work until after she passed away in 2011. That's when he decided to start the Backpack Lady Project expanding his mom's good work at one school to classrooms all across Pinellas County.
"Next thing you know I was delivering 200 backpacks and this year I did 461 to about 46 schools," said Rob.

He doesn't do it alone. Rob has help from people all over the community including donations from the Dunedin Waterside Rotary. And the backpacks aren't empty. Each bag is full of supplies.

"Approximately every teacher usually spends 2 or $300 of their own money for supplies for their kids and their students. Yeah it's a big time need," explained Rob. 

It's Rob's generosity that Principal Darrell Fulford says gives struggling families hope.

"It's just an embracing of hope for them that someone out there cares that someone is relieving them of the struggles that they're going through," said Darrell Fulford.

It wasn't until his first delivery five years ago that Rob realized a backpack could mean so much. And Rob has been making donations ever since.

"It makes me feel amazing and very proud and it helps me remember my mom," said Rob.

Rob doesn't do it for the recognition. He says he just does it for the kids and in honor of his mom, Phyllis, the Backpack Lady. 

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