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Bemis CEO Micayla Zelny, International Analyst Kerra Huchowski, who coordinates the Toys for Tots program with the Massachusetts State Police, USMC Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Kuehner, who coordinates the Worcester County Toys for Tots program for the Marines and “Santa” Mike Lynch, who has worked for Bemis for 23 years and initiated the company’s participation in the program 18 years ago. Courtesy photo by Tammy Mariani

SHIRLEY — Skateboards and snowboards, drums and dolls; games, books and bicycles; art supplies and crafts kits, toy trains, trucks and cars, plush bunnies and Care Bears, soccer balls and basketballs. Those were a few of the items in an array of holiday presents piled up beneath and beyond the giant Christmas tree in the lobby of Bemis Associates, Inc. last week.

The 15-foot fir came from Pacing Pine Farms on Groton Road.

The gifts were purchased in the area and headed for distribution centers across the region, destined to brighten the holiday season for many children in need.

It was pick-up day for the Toys for Tots drive, which the company has participated in for 18 years, ever since longtime Bemis employee Mike Lynch proposed the idea. He’s still on board and it’s been a great success, he said, with donation dollars and the size of the toy collection growing each year.

This year’s take was $29,000, which purchased $39,000 worth of toys, according to Tammy Mariani, a Bemis sales support specialist and one of the Toys for Tots elves.

The bonus buying power came from discounts, courtesy of Target, Dick’s and Michael’s, the three Leominster stores the elves visited on their prearranged holiday shopping trip.

The manager at Target was especially helpful, Mariani said. A potential challenge on their gift hunt was whether there would be enough of everything to match the shopping list, which focused on boys and girls 11-14 and tots from newborn to 3 years old, which was the “critical age group this year,” she said. But it was no problem, thanks to the Target manager, who rolled out added items from storage as needed.

The hottest wish list item this year was “anything ‘Frozen,'” Mariani said, citing themed toys, books and games from the Disney animated film.

Founded in 1910 in Watertown, Bemis Assoc., Inc. — an international manufacturer of seal and bonding tapes and materials used in sports apparel and other consumer products — moved its corporate headquarters to Shirley in 1990 and has contributing to the community ever since. Among other things, Bemis donations funded after-school activities at the middle school for years. Bemis hosts a holiday luncheon for seniors every year and the firm has lent a helping hand on many occasions. Many hands, in fact.

Company policy encourages employee participation in community service.

Participation in the Toys for Tots program is one example on a larger scale. Besides Mariani and Lynch, who holds the unofficial title of Santa, the other Toys for Tots elves were Bemis C.E.O. Micayla Zelny, Amanda Clark, Kristine Ciccarelli, Tricia Babinski, Marty Bidleman, Rick Goodwin, Mark Hargraves, Jr. and Sally Wood.

According to U.S. Marine Corps. Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Kuehner, Toys for Tots coordinator for Worcester County, Bemis is by far largest pick-up on his route.

On target to exceed last year’s numbers, when the Worcester County branch collected 39,000 toys and filled 13,000 requests from participating organizations and agencies across the region, he said.

Now an annual fundraiser in all 50 states and internationally, the Marine Toys for Tots program dates back to 1947, when it was founded by USMCR Maj. Bill Hendricks in Los Angeles. According to the Toys for Tots website, the first toy was a handmade doll and the program collected 5,000 new and used toys for needy kids in the area that year.

The scope expanded over the next several years, with celebrity spokespersons and even a theme song. Disney designed the now-famous toy train logo. In 1995 the Secretary of Defense approved Toys for Tots as an official Marine Corps activity.

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