“Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but when you see kids who don’t have anything, it breaks your heart,” says retired Panama City, Florida, cop Mike Jones. He was once a child abuse investigator by day, who also happened to work part-time in security at Sears. When he realized the store’s faulty toys met their end in a hydraulic press, Jones had an aha moment. “I figured I could make one full Monopoly game out of five broken ones and then give it to a kid as a Christmas present,” he recalls. That’s how it started. Forty years later, Jones (who is better known in the area as Salvage Santa) restores bicycles and delivers toys to thousands of local children each December.
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In 2018, Hurricane Michael flattened much of the community, including Jones’ home and workshop, but he didn’t let a storm steal his spirit. A call for donations brought in enough bikes and toys for 14,000 children—Salvage Santa’s biggest contribution to date. “We try to make every year special, but I think last year was the most special,” he says. As for why Jones plays Santa year after year, his answer is simple. “It’s the season of giving,” he says. “The good Lord put us on this Earth to help others and give, not to take.” And he is quick to give his neighbors all the credit. “Without the community giving me the toys and coming by my house and dropping off sandpaper, steel wool, paint, and stuff like that, the program wouldn’t work,” he says. “The citizens of Bay County are about the giving-est community you’ve ever seen. And I love my community. You ask anybody in Panama City, and they’ll tell you, ‘Mike Jones loves Bay County. He loves his community.’ And I do, I love my people.”