David Goodman, executive director of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, recalls one early morning last winter when a long line of people had formed at a food giveaway at the Veterans Building in Santa Rosa.

"It was dark and rainy, and there were 300 people lined up outside," he said. "I was watching the traffic on Highway 12, and I was thinking, &amp;&lsquo;I wonder what all those people commuting think is going on here?'<TH>"

A line for concert tickets? A holiday sale?

What's going on is that many people who never imagined that they would one day be standing in a line seeking help suddenly are. And some of these people are our friends, neighbors and former co-workers.

County food programs all over have experienced significant increases in the number of people needing help. The Food Bank is now providing meals to about 78,000 people a month, an increase of 10 percent from a year ago. And last year, the Food Bank had reported an increase of about 10,000 from the year before that. "It's just been growing by leaps and bounds," said Goodman.

According to a recent study, nearly 40 percent of the recipients of Food Bank assistance are children. And the median income of food recipients is $930 a month — less than one-fifth of the median household income in the county.

Hunger is one of Sonoma County's most profound challenges. It's also one of the most hidden.

As Actor Jeff Bridges and Bill Shore, founder of Share our Strength, note in the column on the opposite page, "We have food. We have the right programs in place." All we need is the will and motivation to share.

If you're looking to help out this holiday season, here are some places that could use the assistance:

<&amp;#149>The Redwood Gospel Mission will host its annual Thanksgiving dinner for 5,000 people on Wednesday. Then it will gear up to do it again at Christmas. Donate online at srmission.org., bring a turkey to the mission at 101 Sixth St. in Santa Rosa, or call 578-1830.

<&amp;#149>The Redwood Empire Food Bank supplies 147 agencies around the region including soup kitchens and food pantries. Donate online at refb.org, send contributions to 3320 Industrial Drive, Santa Rosa 95403, or call 523-7900. Each dollar donated to the Food Bank translates to $4 worth of goods distributing around the community.

<&amp;#149>Friends in Service Here, or FISH, is an all-volunteer food bank that provides free groceries to 65,000 people a year in Sonoma County. Call 527-5151.

<&amp;#149>The Salvation Army distributes more than 20 tons of food to more than 1,200 needy families each month. It is currently seeking volunteers for its annual red kettle campaign. Address: 93 Stony Circle, Santa Rosa 95401. Phone 542-0981.

<&amp;#149>The Committee on the Shelterless, also known as COTS, provides shelter, transitional housing and training and serves 100,000 meals and distributes 500,000 pounds of food annually. Donate online or see a wish list and volunteer opportunities at cots-homeless.org, or send a donation to COTS, P.O. Box 2744, Petaluma 94953.

<&amp;#149>Food for Thought, a Forestville-based food pantry, serves AIDS and HIV patients. Donate online at fftfoodbank.org. To volunteer, e-mail volunteer@fftfoodbank.org, or call 887-1647.

<&amp;#149>The Family Support Center is a shelter for homeless families. Services include medical screenings and employment and housing counseling. Donate online at srcharities.org, send contributions to Catholic Charities, P.O. Box 4900, Santa Rosa 95402 or call 528-8712, ext. 160.

<&amp;#149>The Council on Aging delivers more than 250,000 meals annually to senior citizens and provides social, financial and legal services. You can volunteer or donate at councilonaging.com. Send donations to 30 Kawana Springs Road, Santa Rosa 95404 or call 525-0143.