ST. PETERSBURG — Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott, who retired from football in 2007, was part of a charitable huddle recently as his foundation helped to launch the Tiny Totes initiative.

Tiny Totes are reusable, collapsible nylon bags designed for children in foster care. The idea came from the wife of Mt. Vernon Elementary School’s principal, Dr. Rob Ovalle, who felt there had to be a better way than using garbage bags to transfer kids’ personal items between foster homes.

On April 5, Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego, representatives from several local law enforcement agencies including Belleair Police Chief Rick Doyle, and other officials gathered at a Mt. Vernon media event to unveil the product. The group touted Tiny Totes as a small yet vital tool in helping kids in foster care retain their dignity and self-respect during difficult transitions.

“What I love about this story is it’s such a grassroots movement,” Ovalle said. “It’s been wonderful to put it all together and to be able to deliver these bags to the community today. … It gives me great joy knowing the people in this room, and others, brought this product to life.”

Ovalle said that when kids are removed from homes, their personal items and toiletries are often placed in plastic garbage bags, “and there’s no dignity in that.”

He recalled his wife encountering the situation and saying, “Wow, we can do better than this as a society.”

She told him, “Rob, we should find bags that we can fold up and can be easily stored,” and Tiny Totes was born.

After getting support from the schools superintendent, the next step was finding funds for the project.

“Dr. Grego called (county Schools Police) Chief (Luke) Williams and he said, ‘I know just the right group, and how much do you need?’” Ovalle said.

Williams eventually found three donors: the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Belleair Police Department and the Mike Alstott Family Foundation.

“So, once again, this is a grassroots effort,” an emotional Ovalle said, adding the project was “not about Mt. Vernon or Rob, it’s about what’s right for the kids.”

Grego, who recently announced his plans to retire this summer, praised the selfless collaboration.

“The thing that draws my heart to this story is the leaders that we have in Pinellas County who are operating and running schools like Dr. Ovalle,” he said. “It’s these types of leaders that you see on a day-to-day basis that are running our schools … and they’re caring for our children. And I want you to know we’re in good hands, not only here at Mt. Vernon but throughout our entire district. This is a prime example of the kind of types of leaders that we have. So, congratulations, Rob.”

Following a round of handshakes and photos the group moved outside, where Alstott, who is the head football coach at Northside Christian School and appeared to still be in playing shape, helped load boxes of the 2,200 Tiny Totes into a minivan for delivery.

After joking with police and school officials, and posing for selfies with everyone in attendance, the “A-Train” spoke about the importance of the Tiny Totes initiative. 

“At the Mike Alstott Family Foundation, we do a lot of stuff with children and families,” Alcott said. “And this is right up our mission. We can help these kids in a tough situation and be able to provide them with something. Rob’s come up with a great idea with this, and we’re all on board and we want to help.” 

Doyle, a close friend of Alstott’s who serves on his foundation’s board, said as soon as he heard about the need for seed money for the program, he reached out to the former Buc great.

“We do a lot of things for kids and during a meeting for all the Pinellas County police chiefs, Chief Williams said he needed to raise $10, 000 in seed money for this project,” Doyle said. “So, I texted Mike right then and he said, ‘Absolutely, make it happen,’ and that what got the ball rolling.”

According to Doyle, the next step for the initiative is to fill the totes with toiletries and other supplies.

“It was awesome to see the completed bags, but the question is now what? What else do we need?” he said, adding Alstott’s group is already working with suppliers for the items. 

Dr. Ovalle said the collaboration couldn’t have come together without the foundation’s support.

“Chief Doyle and Mike Alstott came together to solve this problem, and that’s why we’re here today,” he said.