AYER -- It was a moving sight ... and a day to load up the sleigh.
Walls of toys dominated the lobby of the Ayer Police Department on Friday -- a testament to the good will of hundreds in the community who have donated gifts and helped propel the 12th annual Ayer Police Holiday Toy Drive to success.
It was estimated that, as of last Friday, there were some 1,500 gifts gathered. Gifts will continue to be accepted at the Ayer Police Department through this Friday, Dec. 21. Toys will be distributed to needy boys and girls in the area by Loaves & Fishes pantry on Devens.
Leaders of several local businesses and organizations were on hand to help haul the booty onto a moving truck, donated and manned annually by Robert Hebb of Nashoba Valley Express Company.
On Friday, leaders of the many local businesses and organizations that participated in the toy drive were on hand. Their business locations annually house collection bins for the public to drop off new, unwrapped gifts for distribution.
Hauling bags of toys instead of mail that morning, Ayer Postmaster Gary Luca said the Ayer post office again provided strong support for the toy drive, which began the week before Thanksgiving.
"They emptied the collection box about once a week. It seemed like it was full every week," said Luca. "We have a lot of foot traffic, especially this time of year, so we're happy."
"The employees participate, too," said Luca. "I open the season with a talk and they bring in items, too.
Walter Dwyer, president and CEO of North Middlesex Savings Bank, loaded bags with toys in the lobby of the police department to help move them to the pantry. "This is absolutely one of our favorite causes," said Dwyer. "I think we collected a little bit more this year than last year."
Norm Plouffe has been with Renaissance Electronics manufacturing in Harvard for 20 years. He smiled because he got to go toy shopping for his company's donation to the cause. Renaissance donated, among other things, two new bikes.
One bike was black and lime green. The other was a "princess" themed bike, bedazzled in pink and glitter. "I even got to assemble them," Plouffe laughed.
Plouffe has three children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild of his own. He admired the community's collective gift giving to the area's needy children. "It's fantastic. You can't ask for anything better than this. It's one of my favorite donations."
Toy drop zones included the Ayer Police Department, Ayer Town Hall, I.C. Federal Credit Union, North Middlesex Savings Bank, Carlin's Tavern, Hannaford Supermarket, and the Ayer post office. Donations were also accepted at Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer.
"We get a lot of community support. I think everybody wants to help," said Ayer Police Sergeant John MacDonald, who started the toy drive in 2001. "I don't think anyone wants to see a child go without a toy during the holiday season. Every year we're always impressed with how well the community responds. It will make Christmas a little brighter for those in need."
MacDonald changed it up this year, inviting the businesses and organization leaders to help with the toy haul. "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be as successful as we are."
Ayer Police Lieutenant Brian Gill gave credit to MacDonald for launching the initiative. "John's done a very good job running this over the years and building it to where it is today."
Gill said the sheer volume of toys greeting him in the lobby of the Police Department was amazing. "I was very surprised this morning," laughed Gill. Toys were stacked waist high throughout the lobby.
"The outpouring of generosity from the community is humbling," said Judy Grande of Loaves & Fishes. "To fill a truck like this in these economic times is just wonderful.
Grande and her late husband Ray Grande, who passed away in September, used to work with MacDonald on the toy drive. Grande said Kathy Ellis and Debbie Riffle will now help push the project forward in coming years. Judy Grande said the toy drive was an annual labor of love for her and her husband.
The fall and winter are busy times for the pantry. Grande said 368 Thanksgiving meals were provided to the hungry in November. Mid month, children were invited to the pantry to shop for their parents, with gifts wrapped on the spot. On Dec. 20, parents and caregivers are invited to the pantry's Shop for Your Kids day, where the collected toys and stocking stuffers are matched to area children of all ages.