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The goals for Redwood Empire Food Bank's annual campaign, the Winter Food & Funds Drive, are larger than ever because of rising needs by local families and seniors, officials say.

By Jan. 31, the food bank hopes to collect 225,000 pounds of food and $165,000 in cash, said David Goodman, executive director of the nonprofit organization started in 1987.

A year ago, the agency "came close" to collecting 200,000 pounds of food and $155,000, he said.

Demand keeps increasing, as it does for government-issued food stamps and for free food provided by FISH of Santa Rosa, an all-volunteer food pantry that serves over 5,000 people a month.

"There are always new people coming in," said Dennis Hansen, deputy director of FISH.

The signs of need are in the numbers: The food bank, which distributes nearly 12.6 million pounds of food a year, serves 78,000 people a month, an 11 percent increase from 2009's 70,000 a month, Goodman said.

Ten years ago, the food bank gave food to about 30,000 county residents every month, he said.

FISH, which stands for Friends In Service Here, has seen a 30 percent increase from 50,000 people served in 2007 to 65,000 in 2009, Hansen said. Demand for the first 10 months of this year is the same as last year, he said.

FISH gave away almost 600,000 pounds of food last year, 80 percent of it donated by local farms, grocery stores and other sources.

FISH also is one of the 147 food pantries and relief organizations that obtain supplies from the food bank.

The number of households receiving food stamps has nearly doubled from 7,008 in September, 2007 to 13,772 this September.

Food stamp applications have increased 60 percent in the past year, said Marion Deeds, director of the county Human Services Department's economic assistance division.

"For many people, their own personal recession hasn't ended yet," Deeds said, noting household hardships have continued long past the recession's official end in June, 2009.

Part of the upswing is because of a streamlined application process for food stamps, which have been rebranded as CalFresh, she said.

Goodman said he expects the demand on the food bank to continue even after the local economy picks up steam.

"Our service grew in the best of times," he said, noting increased food costs and rent strained household budgets then.

Now, he said, "people who were making it suddenly are struggling" because of a loss of jobs or lower incomes, including state workers who are being furloughed.

People newly in need of food are "just bewildered," Goodman said, not knowing where to turn, and some are despondent, as well.

"We let them know it's OK," he said.

The median monthly income for families receiving assistance from the food bank is $930, less than one-fifth of the county median monthly income of $5,189, according to the food bank's annual survey this year.

Brown shopping bags for the Winter Food &amp; Funds Drive are being distributed to 43,000 Press Democrat subscribers in today's newspaper<NO1>nov. 9<NO>.

An additional 5,000 bags will be distributed by community groups around the county, and food barrels are at local stores.

For more information, call the food bank at 523-7900 or FISH at 527-5151.

Know Your Rights

California law prohibits lawyers or others acting on behalf of a lawyer from:

— Soliciting clients at an accident scene, at a hospital, or on the way to a hospital.

— Soliciting clients who, due to their physical, emotional or mental state, may not be able to have reasonable judgment about the hiring of an attorney .

— Seeking clients by mail unless the letter and envelope are clearly labeled as an advertisement.

— Promising a particular outcome from legal representation.

In the wake of the fires, there is also the risk of victims being approached by people posing as attorneys. Consumers should determine if they are legitimate and licensed to provide legal services. Before hiring an attorney, look up their name or State Bar number on the State Bar website — www.calbar.ca.gov — to check the status of their license to practice law and whether they have any record of discipline.

Source: State Bar of California

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