SHIRLEY -- It was looking a lot like Christmas at Bemis Associates last Friday morning and even more like Santa's workshop, with hundreds of brand new toys and gifts displayed at the foot of a decorated 12-foot spruce tree in the lobby.

More gifts lined the corridors. The stunning array included everything from baseballs to big wheels, MP3 players to bike helmets to Hello Kitty dolls. Collectibles, models, Legos, action figures, sleds and sports gear, books, blocks, puzzles and games, including a new CSI line featuring walkie talkies and facial ID and DNA strand-building kits.

Bemis elves Aaron Arsenault, Angela Apollino, Sonia Demelo, Tricia Babinski, Mary Roy, Tammy Condon, Jeff Barns, Marty Bidleman, Kim VivoAmore, Chet Flagg, Sally Wood and Joe Snyder shopped for the gifts at local stores, including Michael's Crafts, Toys R Us and Dicks Sporting Goods, all of which were expecting them and assigned clerks to help them find the best buys and discounts for bulk purchases.

The elves set out in a company truck -- to load their purchases -- and were busy all day. But it was cheery work, and after 15 years, shoppers and the merchants are in sync as the program grows each year.

Aaron Arsenault, a process engineer, has been on board from the first. "It's a big event," he said. "We cleared some shelves.


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As usual, they shopped for age groups designated by the Toys for Tots coordinator, he said. This year, the groups were infant to age 2, 6- to 10-year-old boys, and 6- to 14-year-old girls, with each gift costing no more than $30.

This year's fundraising total was $27,779. The money came from business donations and community contributions in Shirley, Ayer, Townsend, Fitchburg, Lunenburg and Leominster and from Bemis employee contributions matched by the company.

"That buys a lot of toys!" the elves said of the generous amount raised this year. They also wanted to thank all who contributed, including the stores that provided discounts.

This year's Santa was Mike Lynch, of Shirley, a Bemis employee for 20 years. As he recalls, the annual Toys for Tots drive has come a long way in 15 years. The first year's fundraising total was $800, he said.

Jeff Barnes, an employee for 16 years, said he, too, had been involved in the season event from the start. Asked what motivates him, he said it was for a good cause and besides, it's fun. "It brings out your inner child," he said, echoing the sentiments of other elves.