Being handed $20 by a stranger, finding a bag of tools hung over your backyard fence, bikes left outside your house or gifts in your workshop could be cause for suspicion. For Salvage Santa, it’s a typical week—and for good reason.
A household name in the Panama City area, Mike Jones, also known as Salvage Santa, plays a big role in his community.
Mike has spent 30 years as Salvage Santa, repairing toys and bicycles for those in need in his community. In addition to residents, benefactors include Target, Kmart and Toys R Us, which donate “broken” new bikes to Mike.
He is able to restore about 60 percent of the 500 bicycles donated each year.
“It’s been a good ride,” Mike says of what he calls a hobby. “It’s been a good thing. I’ve been enjoying it for half my life.”
While working security for Sears, Roebuck and Co., Mike saw toys with minor damage being thrown away, and offered to repair them. In a few months, he had accumulated a good supply.
When Christmas came, Mike dressed up in a Santa suit and gave the repaired toys to local families who could not afford gifts for their children.
As word spread, Mike started getting volunteers and more resources.
His work extends to counties surrounding Panama City, with Mike fulfilling lists from organizations such as Early Education and Care.
“A lot of people don’t want to be on a list, or considered less fortunate than other people,” Mike says. “If God sends them to me for help, I’m gonna help them. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich, poor. It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna help them.”
Mike collaborates with others who specialize in electronics, woodworking and painting. He worked with a painter and craftsman to restore old rocking chairs for patients at United Cerebral Palsy of NW Florida.
A friend going through radiation treatment was granted permission by his doctor to help at Mike’s workshop and single-handedly prepared 70 bikes for reuse.
“The satisfaction you get when you go in the shop, grab a piece of junk and four hours later you have something very new and very bright to give to the kids—it’s that satisfaction of accomplishing something,” Mike says. “Seeing those parents who hug you, kiss you and cry at the same time—it’s just that joy of Christmas and being able to help them.”
That joy of Christmas is spread year-round, with Mike working around the clock when he is not at his day job.
“The day after Christmas I just crash,” Mike says. “December 26 we start all over. The adrenaline and what you’re doing … I don’t want it to end.”
Mike remains motivated by a December 2010 event, when he came face to face with a shooter at a school board meeting.
“Every morning I wake up and I say, ‘What do you want me to do today, God? Just as long as it doesn’t involve bullets,’” Mike says, explaining he was forced to take deadly aim at the shooter.
The heroic act earned Mike a Congressional Badge of Bravery and garnered attention from multiple news outlets, including NBC’s “Today Show,” which donated 500 Schwinn bicycles to his cause as Salvage Santa.
His life events leading up to the shooting inspired him to write a book, “Salvaged Santa,” chronicling how his experiences repairing and giving while off the clock contributed to the day his 20 years on the police force were tested.
“Something bad turned into so many good things for our community,” Mike says. “I want to get rid of the 30,000 books and put it to rest.”
But Mike says he will not rest until God tells him it is time.
“I’m 60 years old,” Mike says. “I love people, like to live on five hours of sleep. He’ll let me know when I’m done.”
Donations can be sent to Salvage Santa, 2715 Hillsboro Ave., Panama City, FL 32405.
What Does This Santa Want for Christmas?
Mike Jones receives dozens of lists every year from around the community with supplies needed and things to repair. But what tops Salvage Santa’s Christmas list?
“I’ve always wanted a Snap-on toolbox—that great big one that rolls around, 6 feet tall 8 feet wide,” Mike says.