WATCH: Salvage Santa Brings Christmas to Families Still Suffering After Hurricane Michael
Christmas won't be cancelled in Bay County, Florida.
Christmas is just around the corner. As we all wrap our last gifts, plan our holiday meal menus, and prepare our homes for guests, we here at Southern Living, can't help but think of our neighbors in the Florida panhandle, for whom, Christmas will be very different this year.
It's been about two months since Hurricane Michael devastated Mexico Beach, Panama City, Panama City Beach and wreaked havoc on the surrounding area.
Many residents of these areas are entering the holiday season without a home. It is hard to be cheerful in times like these, but one man has taken on the task to bring the joy back and "salvage Christmas."
Police officer Mike Jones, otherwise known as, "Salvage Santa" has dedicated much of his life to bringing joy to children who might not otherwise have it during the holiday season. In his spare time, out of workshop in his home, Jones has been building bikes and repairing old toys to new again form to give away to children each Christmas. And when that massive storm struck the coast, Salvage Santa wasn't spared its wrath. Hurricane Michael destroyed his house as well. But as he tearfully told a local news station back in October, "I might have to do it out of the little shoe box I got left, but we'll figure out something. We'll, we'll take care of that. So, Bay County, we're gonna need your help, but we're gonna have Christmas in Bay County. I promise you that. I promise you. We'll figure out something."
Using a church that suffered roof damage during the storm as a holding ground, Jones has collected donated toys to replace his usual stash of handmade kindness. By Tuesday, he'd stashed away around 900 bicycles and over 10,000 toys in that church to ensure that all of the children in Bay County do indeed, have a Christmas. He spoke to ABC News about his latest efforts. "Even though we're in a building right now that doesn't have a ceiling in it right above me, and the carpets all wet and torn out ... look at the toys in here on the shelves," Jones said. "The parents they come here, they get the spirit when they get to shop, there's no cash register here, everything that you see in this room behind me is free."
Jones knows the somber truth. Without his efforts, many children in the area wouldn't get a Christmas. A local mom's Facebook post went viral last month as she painted a grim picture, saying in part, "I've lived here since 1980 and there's nothing left intact. Nothing. We lost 20,000-plus homes. We have people in tents." Sharon Michalik and her post that put out the siren call for toys and #SalvageChristmas. She went on to say, "My community desperately needs normal; we need a morale boost, we need hope and my kids need to see that Santa still came even though their chimneys are gone and their roofs are caved in and they've been evicted from their apartments and they've had to change schools, make new friends and move to new places."
With Salvage Santa at the helm, Michalik's wishes are coming true. And on Tuesday morning, Good Morning America paid Jones a visit with a very big surprise. GMA anchors Ginger Zee and T.J. Holmes announced that along with their sponsor SAP, they were in town to donate $50,000 worth of toys to the Salvage Christmas project. Fighting back tears, Jones thanked his benefactors and said, "You just all made our Christmas special."
Watch the full surprise in the video above.