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Legacy of Dunedin's 'Backpack Lady' lives on through the good deeds and generosity of her son

Posted at 3:44 AM, Jul 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-25 02:40:03-04

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Phyllis Ditro was not a saint.

She was tough, an old-school Italian from Philadelphia who could cuss with the best of them.

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The Dunedin woman died several years ago. Afterwards, Rob Ditro made a shocking discovery after his mother. For years, she had secretly donated backpacks for kids at a local church.

Phyllis from Philly never told anyone. Her son had no idea.

They simply called her “the Backpack Lady.”

Before her funeral service, Rob wrote about this revelation on Facebook. Then something magical happened.

“At her funeral service, 66 backpacks were surrounding her coffin,” Rob says. “I get goosebumps just talking about it. And that’s how it started.”

In honor of his mom, Rob has since turned The Backpack Lady Project into a local phenomenon.

Thanks to the kindness of people living across the Tampa Bay area, the collection grows each year.

This year Rob wants to collect 547 backpacks, plus other school supplies, and make deliveries to every single elementary school in Pinellas County.

At a recent event at the Dunedin Marina, his wife’s run club donated 140 backpacks. At one point, the crowd filled the streets. The feel-good moment all thanks to a woman who was “rough around the edges.”

With a few weeks left before school starts, Rob is confident he can reach that goal.

What would Phyllis think of all this?

“She’d be very proud,” says Rob.

Then he laughs.

“She’d probably use profanity, too."