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It was harder to find parking.

That's the measure by which Santa Rosa residents Kirsten Anderson and Marsh figured the 30th annual Sonoma County Human Race — already the largest in the country — had drawn more participants Saturday than in recent years.

Eric Taylor and Johnny Drake, co-chairmen of the event, agreed with her assessment, based in part on the 18 minutes it took participants to leave the starting line at Slater Middle School.

"Just anecdotally, people have been coming over all day and volunteering, I think this is way more people than last year," Taylor said.

In a sign that fortunes may be changing for the huge annual fund-raiser, contributions were up nearly 9 percent after a two-year slump.

A total of $810,000 has been raised, with individual donations increasing an average $40, said Eunice Valentine, executive director of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, which organizes the race.

That's up from $740,000 raised by the race last year, which was down from a peak of $1.1 million in 2006.

Still to be counted are donations from the first-ever Week of Giving leading up to the race in which 25 local restaurants agreed to donate a portion of their proceeds.

"This is the first week we've done it, and we have no idea how to project that," she said.

Organizers credited increased participation and pledges to greater outreach, including stepped up promotions, sessions with non-profits on ways to improve fund raising and increased involvement by the business community.

About 9,000 people typically walk or run the race, either 3K and 10K courses. They raised money this year for at least 185 nonprofit organizations, many of which bring in a major portion of their yearly funding.

Many walkers Saturday said raising awareness about their groups was another important goal.

"This is our first year in the Human Race," said Natalie Stolzheise, president of the Redwood Empire Foster Parent Association, which had 150 participants to match the number of foster kids in Sonoma County on any given day. "We were amazed by the money we raised — $12,000 so far."

Twenty-nine walkers for Food For Thought, a Forestville-based food bank for people with AIDS, sported colorful Mexican beachcomber hats covered in glued-on fruit and food packaging.

"We've already raised more than $20,000, so we're really excited," agency vice president Frederick Kasl said. "Our goal was $15,000."

Laura Doyal, who walked with her 12-year-old son, Nicholas, said it can be hard to settle on a cause when there are so many good ones.

"It's what's close to your heart," said Doyal, whose 2011 pledges were designated for Autism Hope, in honor of her son, the American Cancer Society, in honor of the mother she lost to cancer, and the Sonoma County Animal Shelter.

Nicholas was on board with that one, he said.

"All of the poor animals are being beaten and neglected," he said. "It's to give them new homes so they can live happy, healthy lives."

Lily Dittman, 10, of Forestville, and Guerneville resident Libby Plaugher, 9, raised $135 in advance of the race through a bake sale for Circle of Sisters, a violence prevention program run by St. Joseph Health Systems.

Several teens who said they'd otherwise be sleeping but for parents who committed them to the race conceded it wasn't such a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

They included Gianna Pendleton, who walked for Catholic Charities with her parents, a sister and a cousin.

"It's actually kind of fun," she said.

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