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'Secret Santa' hosts Christmas on Clematis for hundreds of kids from area's poorest towns

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

A Glades child with Santa at "The North Pole," the vacant Voltaire nightclub on on Clematis Street Dec. 24, 2021

RODNEY MAYO COULD have spent Christmas Eve the way most people do, watching "A Christmas Story" or "It’s A Wonderful Life" for the zillionth time, wrapping last-minute gifts or arguing about politics in front of the living-room Christmas tree.

Instead, he and dozens of volunteers threw a party for more than 600 kids from some of Palm Beach County’s poorest neighborhoods.

Hospitality Helping Hands, Mayo’s charity, arranged for buses and other transportation to bring the kids from Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay and Riviera Beach to the 500 block of Clematis Street for five hours Friday afternoon.

They ate Troy’s Barbeque, had their faces painted, climbed a portable rock wall, shot basketball and enjoyed a performance by the little drummer boys from Riviera Beach’s JFK Middle School.

Oh, and they went to “the North Pole” (the vacant Voltaire nightclub above Mayo’s bar Lost Weekend) and met Santa Claus — two different Santa Clauses, to be exact, along with a few elves and one drag queen dressed as a Christmas tree.

No one left empty-handed, thanks to thousands of South Florida residents who donated toys for the third annual Celebration of Hope.

“Mr. Mayo does a nice job during the holiday season. He’s his own little ‘Secret Santa,’’’ said Scott Brown, Mayo’s friend and volunteer.

Rodney Mayo

This wasn’t the first time Mayo and his volunteers spent their Christmas Eve making sure underprivileged kids enjoyed a bright Christmas. On Dec. 24, 2019, he brought the party to Pahokee, setting up in a small public park.

But after hosting a Mardi Gras party for those communities in early 2020 in downtown West Palm Beach, Mayo was told by chaperones that the kids enjoyed getting out of the Glades.

“This is like going to New York City for some of them,’’ Mayo said. “To come here it's a whole different environment. I never would have thought 30 miles aways it's a different world and it is a different world.’’

Barbara King, a chaperone, brought 23 kids from the KTM Youth & Community Network in South Bay.

“If not for charities like (Mayo’s) and mine, if we didn't all come together to help provide things for them, a lot of kids probably would have gone without (on Christmas),’’ King said.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss attended Friday’s party and handed out a $2,000 check on behalf of Hospitality Helping Hands to the JFK Middle School drum band.

“I really appreciate (Mayo’s) support for the children of Palm Beach County,’’ Weiss said, “because we are all one community and Rodney certainly understands that.’’

Absent from the downtown celebration were representatives from the city of West Palm Beach.

"You may find it slightly odd that the City of Pahokee is on the invite but not the City of WPB where this event is being hosted?’’ Mayo wrote on Facebook a few days before the event.

“Well, that’s because we do not get any support from the City, the DDA nor the CRA in doing these types of events downtown that we think are so worthwhile. It’s a shame, not a surprise. We have become used to it.’’

On Christmas Eve, he focused his energy on the hundreds of kids who filled up the 500 block.

“This is fun for me for Christmas. I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing,’’ he said.

“The last place I probably want to be is in a stuffy kitchen with family arguing over politics. I would much prefer to be out with a bunch of kids playing basketball.’’

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