Twinkie jokes aside, tears fall at the decades-old Hostess/

Wonder Bread outlet on Sebastopol Road and the women at the register struggle to stay employed to the last possible day.

"Everybody thinks we've closed," lamented manager Beverly Ramirez, who has worked at the bakery thrift shop for nearly 29 years.

Though the huge Hostess Brands Inc has shut down operations across the country, Ramirez is trying to keep open the landmark southwest Santa Rosa store until it has sold its final loaf of Wonder Bread and box of Hostess Donettes.

The shop's last Twinkies, Ho-Ho's and fruit pies are gone, snatched up soon after Hostess Brands announced that it could not come to agreement with its union bakers and would liquidate.

But when I dropped by the store Monday, there were still chocolate Hostess CupCakes, doughnuts, fruitcakes, hot dog rolls and plenty of bread.

"We've got Home Pride bread. And Colombo sandwich rolls," said soon-to-be-unemployed clerk Darlene Washington. "You'll never see those on the shelf again."

Her boss and friend Ramirez, who hired on at the Sebastopol Road store in June of 1984, said tears are shed by longtime customers coming in to say good-bye.

As pundits and more than 18,000 abruptly out-of-work Wonder Brands employees debate who was at fault for the company's failure, Ramirez said Wonder has always been good to her.

"I have enjoyed working for this company. They gave me everything they promised me," Ramirez said.

Then she prepared to tie up some helium balloons outside to alert passersby that though the Twinkies are gone, the old bakery thrift store hasn't yet gone dark.

The shelf-life dates on some of those Donettes run a week or more into December.

DINING OUT FOR LIFE is Thursday. It's a fine way to enjoy a meal out and help assure that Food for Thought, the Sonoma County AIDS Food Bank, continues to provide quality nutrition to people deeply dependent on it.

More than 80 of the county's restaurants will donate a healthy portion of the day's receipts to Food for Thought.

There will be volunteers with the food bank at all the participating restaurants. I'll be at Mac's Deli for both breakfast and lunch.

Love to see you.

BEFORE SHE DIES: Friends of terminally ill Genevie Mantooth have taken to Facebook to seek help to fill her bucket list.

She was born with a defective heart 42 years ago in Santa Rosa. Open-heart surgeries have kept the Montgomery High alum going, but recently she was told she's down to perhaps her last year.

She lives now in Lower Lake, where friends have mounted a campaign to help to her see California from a hot-air balloon, visit New York City and meet her idol.

Mantooth said she may not be obsessed with Celine Dion, but she's gone to six of her concerts and she has her name tattooed on an ankle.

"She has been huge in my life, in staying positive," said the woman with the wishes.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and