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AYER — The lobby of the station looked like Santa’s workshop, overflowing with toys collected for the annual Ayer Police Department Holiday toy drive, Friday Dec. 9. Sgt. John MacDonald has been organizing the annual drive to benefit Loaves & Fishes — Shop For Your Kids program, for 11 years and said that he will continue until he retires.

MacDonald recalled that the toy drive started when he was sitting in the office of the Rev. Phillip Goff at the Ayer Federated Church of Washington Street and they were talking about a need for toys. Goff is one of the founding members of Loaves & Fishes, which began in Ayer before moving to its current home in Devens, serving Ayer, Shirley, Groton, Littleton and Devens.

“As a police officer, I regularly encounter the needy and was surprised when Rev. Goff told me how many local children in the immediate area were suffering. At that time, it was about 300 kids, today it’s closer to 600,” said MacDonald. Loaves & Fishes helps the Police Department at times with homeless people and the department, wanting to repay the favor, started the toy collection. The first drive brought in one hundred toys and last year’s drive brought in close to 2,000.

MacDonald says he personally shops, along with his wife Shannon, to help pick out toys for the program. “She reads all the sale circulars and we stretch the donated money as far as we can.” He added that the Ayer Police Patrol Officers Association and Ayer Police Superior Officers Union gave generously adding more than 300 new toys to the drive.

Judy and Ray Grande were at the station helping to load toys onto a truck that would deliver them to Loaves & Fishes, Devens. The Grandes have been co-chairs of the Shop For Your Kids program for three years and have volunteered at the Loaves & Fishes pantry for more than 12 years.

“It’s a wonderful program and to see this generosity really reaffirms your faith in people,” she said. In the current economic situation, there are many families in the community that are not able to give their children toys and are grateful to receive them through the program. “I don’t know how we would do it without John, he is Santa in blue.” It’s difficult to run a program like this when you depend on donations,” Grande said.

Also lending a hand to carry out toys, was Mike Snee, employee at Renaissance Electronics Corp. in Harvard. Over for the past seven years, Snee has organized a collection at his company to benefit the Ayer Police toy drive. “John is a great guy … we look forward to seeing each other this time of the year,” Snee said. Tom Kurian, president and CEO Renaissance Electronics said, “Mike has inspired other employees to participate in the toy drive.”

“I know for myself and other members of the Ayer Police Department, we find supporting this cause very rewarding and are happy to do it,” Sgt. MacDonald said.

There is still time to give

The Ayer Police Department will continue to collect new unwrapped toys and monetary donations through Dec. 23. Checks can be made out to “Ayer Police Toy Drive.” All monetary donations are tax deductible and receipts from Loaves & Fishes will me mailed to donors before Dec. 31.

Toys can be dropped off at collection boxes: Ayer Police Department, Hanaford Supermarket, Ayer Post Office, North Middlesex Savings Bank, IC Federal Credit Union, Sovereign Bank and Page Hilltop School.

Those looking to register with the program and receive donated toys can contact Loaves & Fishes at 978-772-4627.

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