Panama City, Fla. (WMBB) — For the past 40 years, “Salvage Santa” also known as Mike Jones has made Christmas possible for less fortunate kids in the community, and this year is no different.
Hundreds of bikes filled Jones’ yard and his workshop.
He said since last December 26, he’s been hard at work preparing to giveaway bikes and toys to Bay County children.
Jones became “Salvage Santa” in the 1980s.
It all started with a football game between the Panama City Police Department and the sheriff’s office called the “Fuzz Bowl” that ultimately led Jones to become “Salvage Santa.”
“As it got on down the road, you know, a year or two, and they nicknamed me “Salvage Santa” and then people would just come by and give me huge toys, and then they’d start throwing bicycles over the fence,” Jones said. “And now it’s a junkyard of Santa Claus.”
In the beginning, he gave away 50 bikes, this year he’ll give away 300 bikes that he repairs himself in his backyard workshop.
“My favorite thing is, is when I’m out in the community, I’ll have people come up to me and they’re adults and say, ‘I love you Mike Jones, when I was a little kid, my mom and dad were poor and you made my Christmas,’ Jones said. “For somebody to come up to you 10 years, 20 years later and say ‘thank you for what you did for me so I had Christmas.’ That’s a good feeling.”
Jones said kids can expect a big Christmas this year.
“We’ve got a lot of toys and we got a big build-off on December 10th,” Jones said. “Anybody wants to come out and watch Salvage Santa and the boys and cub scouts, we’re going to be putting bicycles together on December 10th at Gulf Marine.”
And this year Salvage Santa is embarking on a new adventure.
“We have as you see right over here, you’ll see about ten Christmas trees,” Jones said. “I have three more around on the other side of my house and on my lake property in Chipley in Washington County I planted 100 Merry Cyprus Christmas trees this year, seedlings. Every year between now and then, I’ll plant 200 Christmas trees and then Christmas of ’24, I get to give away my first hundred Christmas trees, so when we give away the bikes and the toys, we’re going to let people come out and cut down a Christmas tree.”
Several organizations help choose the families.
Early Education and Care, The Knights of Pythias out of Gulf County and the Glenwood Center.
“This program would not exist if it weren’t for the people in Panama City, Florida. I love Panama City,” Jones said. “I love my community and I love everybody in Bay County for what they do for Salvage Santa and the less fortunate children in our community so Merry Christmas to all of you and thank you very much.”
Jones is also known for his law enforcement career, he retired as police chief of Bay District Schools earlier this year.
Jones said Salvage Santa is still going strong but will be turning 70 years old next year and is looking for a younger person to take over the Christmas program in the next year or two.