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Free Cycles' typical fundraising method consists of a sign with the word "donations" posted on a red tool box near its front door on South First Street West.  

Now, the laid-back, environmentally minded nonprofit is seeking an amount that would far exceed the capacity of its makeshift piggy bank: $1.1 million.

"We are seeing this as a good time to make some changes," said Bob Giordano, the organization's executive director. "We will do it with a lot of spare change and a lot of dollar bills, but we are also going to need a lot of donations."

The campaign, titled "Cycles of Change," kicks off at with coffee and brunch at 9 a.m. Friday at Free Cycles, 732 S. First St. W. Events will continue during the day, ending with an 8 p.m. concert and "bike disco" that will ride downtown.  

In the 20 years since its inception, Free Cycles has always relied on the generosity of community members to keep its wheels turning. A buck here and a dime there dropped in the toolbox has resulted in about $40,000 a year – nearly half of its $88,000 in total revenue. The money pays for two meager salaries, rent and utilities.

In November, Free Cycles entered into a buy-sell agreement with its landlord, giving the nonprofit six months to raise the $1.1 million needed to buy the warehouse space it operates out of.

The location had been on the market for a few years before an offer was made by a buyer who wanted to level the old buildings and put up condominiums.  

"(The owners) said, 'We think we could make something work to give you the opportunity,' " Giordano said. "And that's all we wanted – an opportunity. When I got that call I thought, 'Here was the launch. Here we go.' "

Giordano believes the organization resides in an ideal location in the center of Missoula, near the junction of two main trails – the Milwaukee Trail and Bitterroot Branch.

The growing organization, which at one point fit into the cellar of a business at the corner of Higgins Avenue and Broadway, has now spread out in 12,000 square feet of warehouse space. It also stores bicycles and bike parts in old shelters in the site's yard. 

Free Cycles' goal is to turn 28,000 square feet of warehouse space and buildings and two acres of land into a transportation hub where it can empower hundreds of Missoulians daily by teaching them how to build and fix bikes. Its offerings include BikeWell educational classes, the Build-a-Bike program and its open shop.

With the new space, Giordano said it will be able to start three more programs: Beyond Bicycles, a Transportation Learning Center and the Community Bike Share – a "bike library."

If Free Cycles owns the building, Giordano said the $30,000 paid in rent and utilities annually would be less. The nonprofit would be able to preserve the structure and make changes to it to accommodate its growing needs.   

Program director Emily Jensen, who is also a senior at University of Montana studying social work, likens the service to the Missoula Food Bank or the Poverello Center, only Free Cycles serves all people from all different walks of life.

The affluent walk in to service their bikes, alongside people from the pre-release center, she said.

Jensen is a pivotal point in the fundraising campaign, Giordano said, comparing her to the heart of the organization. 

"I have a lot of energy and I stay motivated," she said. "(Free Cycles) has a lot to do with my passions."

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