In each of his first seven NFL seasons, Mike Evans has been one of the Buccaneers’ most impactful players. With 8,762 yards and 68 touchdowns in 113 career games, he already owns most of the franchise’s receiving records. But what fans might not realize is that, these days, every yard he gains and every touchdown he scores is perhaps making an even bigger difference off the field.
“Being a professional football player, there are a lot of kids out there that look up to you. To show them it’s about more than football—it’s about helping the people in your community—is important to me,” Evans recently told Bucs Nation. “Those are the kind of players I looked up to when I was growing up.”
While being that kind of player and role model to kids watching him on Sundays is nothing new for Evans, “Catch for Kids” is one of the Mike Evans Family Foundation’s newer campaigns, and it ties the eighth-year receiver’s on-field production with his foundation’s mission, which is to “empower and support individuals so that they know that no goal is unattainable.” Items are donated to three partner organizations—The Children’s Home Network, the Galveston Teen Parenting Coalition and a Tampa elementary school—with one item donated for every yard Evans gains and 13 items—matching Evans’ jersey number—donated for every touchdown he catches.
These donated items meet a wide range of needs for kids and families, who Evans and his wife, Ashli, aim to help through their foundation. Hygiene items such as deodorant, toothpaste and socks are donated to The Children’s Home Network, which helps children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. For the Galveston Teen Parenting Coalition, which provides resources for teen parents in Evans’ hometown of Galveston, Texas, items like car seats and diapers are among the items donated. And to help create good learning environments for students in the Tampa area, the foundation donates classroom supplies to teachers at a local elementary school.
There’s no doubt that Evans’ performance on the field for Tampa Bay is driving up the number of items donated by the week. While the campaign ran during the playoffs earlier in 2021, Evans totaled 202 yards and two touchdowns, which meant 230 items were donated to partner organizations. And so far this year, Evans has totaled 496 yards and seven touchdowns for a total of 587 donated items.
And it doesn’t stop there, as fans and supporters can join Evans and his foundation in their efforts with text donations by texting MEFF to 26989. All donations go toward providing essential items for the Catch for Kids partners, who say they are thankful for the foundation’s dedication to bettering the lives of children and families who need support.
“We are beyond grateful that the Mike Evans Family Foundation’s Catch for Kids campaign supports the Children’s Home Network,” said Lauren Ruiz, the organization’s event and community engagement manager. “By providing the boys and girls in our care with items that meet their basic hygiene needs, they are able to focus on working with our team to change their lives and create opportunities for success.”
It’s no surprise that the foundation has Catch for Kids partners both in Tampa and in Galveston. Over the years, Evans has been known to make a difference in both communities. Just last year, he donated $100,000 toward COVID-19 relief, with $50,000 going to United Way SunCoast and the other $50,000 going to efforts in Galveston. Earlier this year, the Mike Evans Family Foundation donated $50,000 to the United Way in Galveston for families that were affected by the area’s severe winter storms.
As celebrated as Evans has become throughout the Tampa Bay area, his hometown hero status reached new heights just prior to Super Bowl LV, as Feb. 3 was declared “Mike Evans Day” in Galveston. A parade was later thrown for the town’s new Super Bowl champion in March.
Making an impact both where he currently resides during his football career and in the city he came from is very clearly important to Evans, who said he sees giving back to both areas as the right thing to do given the impact both cities have had on him not only as a football player but also as a man.
“Tampa is the city I play in and my kids have grown up here, but Galveston will always be my hometown,” he said. “Both have given so much to us that we gotta give back to both of them.”
Catch for Kids is far from the only avenue that Mike, Ashli and their foundation have to carry out their mission and achieve their goals. Every year, through their “Catch for Christmas” event, they provide holiday gifts and gift cards for Tampa-area kids and families who have recently faced hardships. The Buccaneers organization has supported these efforts over the years, with Captain Fear and the team’s cheerleaders getting involved by delivering gifts.
This year, for the first time ever, fans and supporters can get in on Catch for Christmas by bidding in an online auction—which begins on Black Friday—that will include a range of signed items from Mike and his teammates, foundation merchandise, one-of-a-kind experiences with Mike and some of Ashli’s favorite products. The proceeds go toward not only Catch for Christmas but also the scholarships and opportunities that the foundation provides for kids in need, as well as families impacted by domestic violence.
Encouraging education is a core priority for Mike and Ashli, which is how the Mike Evans Family Foundation Scholarship Program came to fruition. This past year, the foundation received more than 100 applications before awarding 13 $5,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors who are now attending colleges throughout the country. Following the first year of the scholarship program, applications will open again in the spring for seniors graduating in the 2022-23 school year.
It’s an exciting time for the Mike Evans Family Foundation, which was founded in 2017. Between Catch for Kids, Catch for Christmas and the scholarship program, Mike and Ashli are meeting the needs of kids and families, just as they’ve always aimed. Plus, preparations are already underway for the foundation’s inaugural gala, which will take place next June. Joined by Buccaneers players, Mike and Ashli will celebrate “13 Pillars of Strength” in the Tampa community. These 13 groups and individuals were nominated for their philanthropic efforts and will come together for a night that will include live music, fundraising games, auctions and a conversation with Mike and Ashli about football and the efforts of their foundation.
In 2020, Evans was the Buccaneers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for the second consecutive year. Given all of the efforts he and his foundation have been a part of and will continue to be a part of, it won’t be much of a surprise if he earns the nod for a third straight time later this year.
Regardless, one thing is for sure: Through Catch for Kids, Evans’ success on the field will only continue to set kids and families up for success off of it. And like each of his receptions and touchdowns, that’s worth celebrating.