AYER -- The Ayer Police Department is launching its 12th annual Ayer Police Holiday Toy Drive to benefit the children served by Loaves & Fishes pantry on Devens.
New, unwrapped toys are being collected in large drop-bins at the Ayer Police Department at 54 Park St. and at Ayer Town Hall. And several community businesses are also looking to fill drop boxes, including North Middlesex Savings Bank, I.C. Federal Credit Union, Hannaford Supermarket, and Carlin's Tavern.
The Ayer Post Office is likewise looking to fill the drop box in its lobby. Families with children attending the Page Hilltop School in Ayer can send children to school with a new toy donation which can be left at the school's front office.
Sergeant John MacDonald started the toy drive in 2001. MacDonald hopes the drive continues to expand.
"Every year, we seem to pick up a new ally to help us with our toy drive," said MacDonald. "Last year, Carlin's did a comedy night benefit for us. We ended up with three cruisers full of toys and several cash donations."
At Ayer Town Hall, employees have opted in prior years to forgo gift-giving in the office in favor of donating towards the toy drive.
MacDonald said he's grateful for the many creative ways people have helped the drive.
MacDonald said the pantry's Shop for Your Kids Day is "touching to see." It's the annual event where the pantry has parents and caregivers shop among collected gifts to find perfect matches for their children. Gift wrap onsite helps families ensure their children receive Christmas Day gifts and stocking stuffers.
Tax-deductible cash donations and toys are all being accepted at the police station. Tax receipts will be mailed to donors prior to Dec. 31.
For those who want to buy toys but don't know what is being sought, Loaves & Fishes has posted a "Most Wanted" list on its website, www.loavesfishespantry.org. All toys collected will be forwarded to Loaves & Fishes and then distributed to needy families in Ayer, Devens, Shirley, Groton, Harvard and Littleton.
According to Loaves & Fishes, the pantry provided toys to 550 needy children last year. Early estimates are that Loaves & Fishes may be distributing toys to about the same number of children this year.
When the Ayer Police started the drive, "It was small," said MacDonald. "We probably raked in 100 toys."
"Contrast that from what we attract now, which is approximately 2,200 new, unwrapped toys," said MacDonald. "Now people in the community know that we collect toys."
"From past experience, I've found that pre-teen and teen children are often overlooked when people are making toy donations," said MacDonald. The pantry also encourages pre-paid store gift cards for teens to shop for clothing, music and more.
Toy donations for all age groups are being sought -- infant, toddler, young boy or girl, pre-teen and teenagers. The Ayer Police Patrol Officers' Association and the Ayer Police Superior Officers' Union have kick-started this year's drive by donating 100 new toys.
The Ayer Police and participating businesses and locations are accepting toy donations through Friday, Dec. 21. Those seeking new toys for their children can contact Loaves & Fishes at 978-772-4627 to register for the Shop for Your Kids Day program or visit www.DevensPantry.org.