In case you were looking for proof that Santa Claus really does exist, Mike Rowe headed to Panama City, Florida for a special holiday edition of his Facebook video series “Returning The Favor” to highlight the work of a former police officer who, for more than three decades, has quite literally been saving Christmas for children in his community.
Watch the episode below:
On a very special holiday episode of Returning the Favor: Mike and his jolly crew of producers bring the North Pole to sunny Panama City, Florida in hopes of surprising the Salvage Santa (Mike Jones). A local hero, who spends all year refurbishing old bikes out of his tiny Santa workshop and distributes them to children during the holidays.
Posted by Returning The Favor on Monday, December 18, 2017
Bay County native Mike Jones has earned the nickname “Salvage Santa” for his work refurbishing bikes for kids in need. A retired police officer who now serves as the chief of police for the local school district, Jones first got the idea when he was working as a detective investigating child abuse some 34 years ago.
He saw children living in truly deplorable conditions and wanted to find a way to give back. He started fixing up broken toys and bikes to hand out, and once word spread of what he was doing, donations starting pouring in.
“I tell my pastor it keeps me out of the bars,” Jones quipped of his salvaging side gig.
To this day, Jones, who made national news in December 2010 when he single handedly took down a would-be gunman who brandished a gun at school board meeting in Panama City, holds a full time job but makes time year-round to rehab several hundred bikes in his tiny backyard workshop, because he believes it is the “biggest gift you can give a kid.”
In the case of a young lady named Allison, Jones’ handywork took her all the way to the medal stand at the Special Olympics.
“We are very fortunate to know Mike,” the girl’s mother told Rowe. “Allison can’t balance on a two-wheel bike. She has cerebral palsy and some brain damage. Mike took that and wanted to give Allison a three-wheel bike. It could not have come at a better time. She went on, with that three-wheel bike, to compete in Special Olympics in cycling and was a [gold] medalist at the state level.”
“Mike provided memories that they wouldn’t otherwise have because a three-wheel bike is $250 a pop,” she continued, and we just didn’t have it.”
Having repaired “thousands” of bikes over the years, Jones was hoping to create about 300 this year to give out ahead of the holidays. Amazed by the work this “Salvage Santa,” Rowe and his team stepped in to donate several hundred sets of wheels.
“It’s just unbelievable that I know another 250 kids are going to get Christmas because of y’all,” an emotional Jones said. “God bless all of you. Merry Christmas.”
As part of the surprise, the “Returning The Favor” crew also turned Jones’ home into a winter wonderland complete with a snow machine and North Pole-themed decorations because, as Rowe explained, “the real Santa lives in Redneck Riviera. Go figure.”
As Mr. Rogers once said, when times are tough, it is important to look for the helpers because there are always people read and willing to lend a hand, and, with all that is going on the world today, Jones is an example of someone who is not just saving Christmas but saving lives.
“Even though he is retired [from the police department] and working for the school board, he is still serving his community,” the Panama City police chief said of Jones. “And we could use a lot more people like him.”