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The organizers of the Missoula Marathon have committed to donating money to three local nonprofits, including one longtime organization that’s been struggling with budget cuts.

Race director Tony Banovich said that this year, the six race winners (male and female winners of the Missoula 5K, Half Marathon and Marathon) will be able to choose from three local nonprofits. Then, a donation of $1,500 to that organization will be made in each winner’s name. The Missoula Food Bank, Opportunity Resources, Inc., and Let’s Move! Missoula were all chosen by the board of directors of Run Wild Missoula, the umbrella organization that hosts many running events in the area, including the marathon.

“The race has been successful enough where we’re to the point that we can give back a little more,” Banovich said. “Over the last couple of years, to the community as a whole we’ve given $35,000, but we hope by the end of the year to give away around $50,000 to various groups.”

Opportunity Resources started in 1955 and provides a variety of services to people with disabilities, including setting them up with jobs. The nonprofit employs about 350 people and serves around 800 clients. Due to steep budget cuts enacted by the Montana Legislature in 2017, the organization has had to scale back its case management services the last two years and lay off a couple dozen people.

“We had to make some hard decisions,” said CEO Joshua Kendrick. “We’re very grateful to the Missoula Marathon, not only for the donation but also for giving us the ability to get involved in such a great community event.”

Now in its second year, the Run For Opportunity program is a team of runners and walkers who are participating in the Marathon races to raise funds for Opportunity Resources.

Part of the donation from the marathon will go to Opportunity Resource's "Katie's Kookies" program. Katie Rolf is a visually impaired client at Opportunity. She and her grandmother started making all-natural dog biscuits in their kitchen 15 years ago. They partnered with Opportunity in 2016 to expand the business and provide more employment opportunities. Now, the cookies are sold in the Missoula Fresh Market, the Good Food Store, Orange Street Food Farm, Showcase Pet Grooming and other locations. On Wednesday, Katie and a group of three other clients were busy putting the finishing touches on a batch of peanut butter-flavored treats.

Kurtis Mayne, the director of vocational services at Opportunity Resources, said they hope to buy a larger oven in the near future, and the marathon funds could help. And Rita Pastore, director of development, said the Missoula Marathon's donation comes at a crucial time because of the state budget cuts.

“The Marathon has been a good partner, and we are very grateful,” Pastore said.

The Missoula Food Bank provides nutritional education and free food to those in need, and Let’s Move! Missoula is a community initiative that focuses on pairing kids with access to physical activity, nutrition and support for social cohesion.

“One of the core values of Run Wild Missoula is to give back to the community in meaningful ways,” Banovich said. “Each of these organizations directly fits with that value, from Let’s Move! Missoula’s efforts to build healthy residents of all age to the Missoula Food Bank’s mission to nourish the community and end hunger and Opportunity Resources’ work to enhance the lives of people with disabilities."

The donation money comes from Run Wild Missoula's overall revenue from things like race entry fees, he said.

"Run Wild Missoula and the Missoula Marathon are thrilled to be in a position to be able to help these organizations build a healthier, stronger and more inclusive Missoula," he added.

The Marathon and Half Marathon take place on Sunday, June 30. Banovich said organizers expect roughly 6,000 registrants this year. The Missoula Marathon was named as a Top 10 Bucket List Race in both 2018 and 2019 by Runner’s World magazine.

“We have been fortunate to be named the No. 1 marathon in the U.S. by The BibRave 100 the last two years,” Banovich said. “In large part, that has been due to the support and encouragement that the Missoula community has shown to the race’s participants. After consideration by the Run Wild Missoula board of directors and the Missoula Marathon race committee, we decided that we wanted to do more to share in our success with the community.”

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