Don?t let the point of economic recovery pop the compassion bubble.

The economic downturn has made a strong impression on all of us. Each of us has been touched by the crisis, whether it is a family member who has lost a job, a friend whose business is struggling to stay afloat, or a neighbor who has been forced to leave the area.

As president of the board of directors for the Redwood Empire Food Bank, I?ve experienced firsthand how the downturn has affected people with whom we share our homes, our lives and our community.

I?ve seen where people turn when they need help. I?ve seen what happens when someone is hanging onto their home, their dream and doing whatever they can to prevent homelessness. I?ve seen people line up in the darkest days of winter, in the pouring rain, waiting for a much needed package of food. I?ve seen it here in my hometown, Santa Rosa.

For many people, the Redwood Empire Food Bank is the difference between despair and hope, misfortune and opportunity, humiliation and dignity.

As the economic crisis unfolded, there were protracted debates in Washington on how to respond. In Sacramento, deep cuts are currently being made to balance the state budget ? much of which will affect the people most vulnerable to economic setback.

In comparison, the Redwood Empire Food Bank was already prepared to help people in need. In fact, for the past 21 years, the food bank has been busy fortifying support for a growing number people who are threatened by hunger, people who are living on Social Security or are disabled and even people who have jobs.

On a personal note, there are many organizations in our community that do good work. I have elected to be part of the Redwood Empire Food Bank because of our ability to touch so many lives, as well as organizations that help people in need, whether it is a soup kitchen, family shelter, after-school enrichment program or low-income senior center.

Our organization does this without bureaucracy or waste. It is the most efficient way for people to receive help and for people like me to improve the lives of many people.

In the lines of people waiting for assistance you will see people who care for our children, tend to our homes, work our land, serve us meals. They are seniors living on fixed incomes and newly displaced professionals who never thought they would find themselves seeking help. And then there are the children who find themselves in a food line for no other reason than their parents are struggling to make ends meet.

Our shared experience during these challenging times has offered each of us a gift of sorts. It has provided us with the combination to open the door to compassion and generosity.

As we look down the path toward economic recovery, let?s be sure that we leave that doorway clear and open for people in our midst who, even in the best of times, are touched by crisis.

Jim Keegan of Santa Rosa is president of the board of directors of the Redwood Empire Food Bank.