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Benefit run organizer

Lona Myers, the organizer of a 5K run that will benefit the Toys for Tots program, shows a Diet Dr. Pepper mountain bike that will go to the top finisher in a race for kids 14 and under. The race is set for Dec. 4 at Riverfront Park.

A 5-kilometer run that will benefit the Toys for Tots program is set for Saturday morning at Riverfront Park in Billings.

It is the perfect event for race director Lona Myers. She used to be the organizer of the Peaks to Prairie run, and she grew up involved with her family in Toys for Tots, the holiday toy drive sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Last year we filled a military truck full of toys. I'm looking forward to doing that again this year,” Myers said.

Actually, there won't be a military truck this year, according to Staff Sgt. Joseph St. Julian, who is coordinating the program for the Marines in Billings. Instead, St. Julian said, the Marines will be filling up a van donated by Archie Cochrane Ford.

St. Julian said eight Marines will be on hand, some helping with the event and some participating as runners. The race will start at 9 a.m. at Riverfront Park, just downstream of South Bridge on the Yellowstone River.

Registration will open at 8 a.m., and the registration fee is a new, unwrapped toy valued at $15 or more. Race organizers will also accept toy gift cards or cash donations, which will go directly to the Marines for the purchase of toys, Myers said.

The top three overall finishers will receive awards from the Marines, and the top finisher in a race for runners 14 years old and younger will receive a Diet Dr. Pepper mountain bike donated by Myers' employer, Coca-Cola.

Another local business, Scheels Sport Shop, donated five bicycles that will be given out as gifts as part of the Toys for Tots program. Many other businesses and local organizations are involved in the event this year, Myers said.

The Yellowstone Rim Runners will build a bonfire in the pavilion at Riverfront Park, and food and drink will be provided by Domino's Pizza, Great American Bagel and Mountain Mudd. Billings Construction Supply is providing portable toilets, and 12 members of a youth group from Harvest Church are helping to set up the cross-country course and then help run the event.

Myers said the leader of the youth group, Carter Knight, “is the most energetic teenager I've ever met.”

Other sponsors include the city's Parks and Recreation Department, Connoisseur Media, KULR, Mountain Marketing, Sundance Spas and Time Out Sports.

Myers said last year's 5K run attracted about 200 participants, some from as far away as Bozeman, Missoula and Helena. In future years, she said, she hopes to be able to add a cross-country skiing race to the event.

St. Julian said the Marines usually collect between 23,000 and 24,000 toys during the annual Toys for Tots program.

The 5K run, he said, “is one of the many events we do, but it's one of the biggest ones.”

Contact Ed Kemmick at ekemmick@billingsgazette.com or 657-1293.

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Contact Ed Kemmick at ekemmick@billingsgazette.com or 657-1293.

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