Panama City, FL

Even in July, Salvage Santa never 'tires' of repairing donated bikes for needy children

Peter Fischetti

By Peter Fischetti

You’d better watch out,

Yes, it’s only July.

But if you don’t behave,

That will be the reason why

Salvage Santa won’t have a bike for you.

The original lyrics may be better, but there’s something to be said for taking an old tune and turning it into something new. At least that’s what Salvage Santa has been doing with old bikes for more than four decades, and he’s put smiles on the faces of thousands of children (and their parents) in Panama City and beyond.

Last Christmas, however, was the first that Santa, who also answers to Mike Jones, missed those smiles. With the pandemic at its worst, parents would drive to his home in Lynn Haven to pick up the bikes. “They stayed in their cars, which we loaded with the bikes,” he recalled. “It was like a robotic assembly line. I didn’t get to even see the parents and I missed that.”

Even with the spread of the virus, Jones handed out more than 300 bikes. He hopes to do even more this year, but he worries about the shortage of bikes and, equally important, parts. “I can hardly get tires and pedals. Everything is more expensive. The bike shops call me for parts.”

A few months after Hurricane Michael, my wife and I first Mike Jones at what was left of his home. Despite the damage to his property, there he was working on bikes that would ultimately be distributed to families in the Panama City area who otherwise had nothing to put under the tree, if in fact there was a tree.

He pointed to the trailer where he and his wife, Colleen, would live for 20 months while their house was being rebuilt. Colleen has her own toy shop where she repairs dolls and other toys for children and makes Christmas decorations. Quite a couple, we thought. After giving him some gift cards, off we went.

Last fall, after reading that the pandemic had led to a big drop in donated bikes, I drove over to Goodwill and picked up a few bikes for 6-year-olds. Hardly worth a ride to Lynn Haven, I figured, so I posted a request online for used bikes. The response was overwhelming.

My friend Bill Caravello played Uber driver with his truck, which we filled twice with donated bikes that we dropped off to Jones. And there were checks, including a real special one. Late on a rainy Sunday afternoon, a woman rang our door bell just as we were leaving for dinner with friends. She said I was doing a very nice thing gathering up bikes for needy kids and she wanted to do her part. With that, she did an even nicer thing, handing me a check to Salvage Santa for $500.

Jones, who has just returned from a family reunion in Missouri, has been Salvage Santa for 42 years. Back then, he was working at Sears Roebuck as a child abuse investigator. “I noticed they were crushing broken toys, and I asked for the toys so I could repair them and give them to needy children.”

Bikes and toys have changed over the years, but not his dedication. “Going out to my workshop and tinkering with toys with my tools is a great satisfaction especially when I see the children receive their gifts.” It sounds like a nice diversion for a retired guy, yet Jones, 68, has a full-time job as chief of police for safety and security for Bay District Schools.

In the past year, their home has been completely rebuilt, Colleen’s toy shop has been repaired and Jones now has two 40-foot cargo containers for his workshop and bike storage. He’s back repairing bikes and wants more. If you’d like to donate a bike or have extra supplies—black and silver paint, blue tape, steel wool, sandpaper—contact me and we’ll make arrangements.

Peter Fischetti, a retired journalist, lives in Panama City Beach.
Salvage Santa, also known as Mike Jones, with bikes he donated last Christmas to needy children in the Panama City area.Credit/Peter Fischetti

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I provide a weekly column that responds to local news in the Panama City/Panama City Beach area. It is written in a first-person format and almost always has a humorous theme.

Panama City Beach, FL

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