AYER -- When Sgt. John MacDonald started the Ayer Police Holiday Toy Drive 13 years ago, collections were small.
But this year, the police department rounds up its annual drive with 2,300 toys and counting, a number that might reach a new record.
"I think our best year was a few years ago," MacDonald said. "I think we brought in a little over 2,500 toys, so we're closing in on that."
The department's 13th annual holiday toy drive is bringing in toys to be distributed to children in need through Devens-based Loaves and Fishes. The police department collects the toys every December through donation boxes around town.
"We have a network of business people and private citizens who help," MacDonald said.
"I think what makes our toy drive attractive to the community is that everything we collect goes directly back to the community," he said.
Local businesses such as Carlin's Tavern and the Middlesex Savings Bank have set up collection boxes for the toy drive, which ends on Dec. 23. The Ayer Police Superior Officers Union and the Ayer Police Patrol Officers Association have also contributed toys.
This year's donation includes a higher number of bikes, some donated by Renaissance Electronics Corporation in Harvard.
"I do think the quality of the toys has gone up in the last couple years," said Mike Snee, vice president of Renaissance. "We would give a bike and it was a big deal, but we gave 4-5 bikes this year and I saw more."
Once Loaves and Fishes receives the donations, they set them up like a store in the Bob Eisengrein community center in Devens so that parents can come in and have the experience of shopping for their children.
"Anyone who lives or worships here can come for food and toys," said L&F volunteer Judy Grande.
People are also welcome to select gifts for their grandchildren, nieces and nephews as well.
"That way nobody's showing up empty-handed at Christmas," said volunteer Lauren Farrell.
The toy drive serves over 500 children in the communities of Ayer, Devens, Groton, Harvard, Littleton and Shirley. L&F also provides food to 900 families a month within that service area.
Although toy drives are held in all of those towns, the Ayer drive is by far the most successful, Grande said.
"We were concerned about the economy and how close Thanksgiving and Christmas were to each other, but people gave," Grande said.
For L&F toy drive co-chair Kathy Ellis, the feeling of giving back is a critical part of the holiday season.
"It's heartwarming and humbling to get involved," Ellis said.
She added that the pantry would not be able to do the toy drive without the help of Ayer's police department.
"What they do for us is above and beyond, and every year they do not disappoint," she said. "It is just fantastic."
"It really is something, what we can do for these families," Ellis said. "And these kids ... It's so nice to be able to spoil them once a year."
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Amelia Pak-Harvey contributed to this story.