Before Christmas, the slow start of our annual fund-raiser for Children's Hospital had me worried. It seemed we would never catch up.

That was before the charitable disposition of most District Liners had had a chance to blossom. With the approach of Christmas, Hanukah and the New Year, purses and wallets all over town started to open with (to this novice) amazing generosity. Soon we were just about running even.

On Jan. 26, 1979, Bill reported a shoebox total of $178,690. His total included the combined gifts of all participating Naval installations and offices. We closed that same old shoebox on Saturday, Jan. 26, with a total of $169,659.58. But we still have the Navy and Mother Bell to tally.

The contributions I've received from our men and women in blue already indicate another banner year for the Navy. The folks at the Telephone Company have always been our strongest and most generous supporters.

But even with all that, we're going to have to make one last valiant effort to push the 1979-80 total over Bill's figure of last year, about $223,000. Posting an annual increase is an old and unbroken District Line tradition.

The flow through the pipelines seems to have picked up in the past few days, but will it be enough? We'll all know in a few days, one way or another.

Whatever our eventual dollar result, the campaign will once again have brought a sizable sum of Children's Hospital, enabling it to do what it does best. That's providing the finest in medical and surgical care to all children, regardless of sex, race, creed or financial status. The money collected through the goodness of District Liners every where and reported on in "For the Love of Children," helps reduce the annual deficit incurred by the policy of providing treatment to every child in medical need.

Of course, the hospital attempts to recover whatever costs may be reasonably collected. But in every case, the patient comes before considerations of money and payment. It seems like a piece of heaven on earth. And it is -- until the books are balanced.

So it's no surprise that Children's is known as the hospital with the "builtin deficit." Each year medical costs increase dramatically. There's never a shortage of patients or needy children seeking treatment. Inflation drains value away from every dollar. Each year we have tgo ask for an adjustment to counter the damage, for the same dollar amount can't do as much work.

Happily, many old friends make the adjustment and send little notes and words of encouragement. And new recruits often have some fun relating how they finally came aboard. Others just let their checks speak for themselves, and they do so eloquently.

Two letters today came from District Liners who sent funds to the hospital to relieve their "guilt." One sent a check for $5, feeling guilty because she had been telling friends that she stopped mailing out Christmas cards to contribute to Children's Hospital. I hope she feels better.

Another friend sent $20, and this note: "I am a retired nurse. Once I had a patient who couldn't remember much, but she sure could spell. 'Eleemosynary' was her favorite, and when you used that word last Monday, it brought back memories. It also made me feel guilty because I have enjoyed reading your column but have not contributed one cent."

They joined 24 other anonymous contributors in directing $704.50 to the shoebox. And, as always, support from organizations and "informal groups" helped boost our daily total.

Leading off, with a contribution of $6.71, was an unnamed bridge group in Potomac. Their check represented "set tricks for our foursome for 1979."

Sending $50 were the members of Vienna's Senior girl Scout Troop 1120. They raised their contribution by holding a neighborhood paper drive.

Staffers at the U.S. Office of Education's Division of International Education sent a total of $144. Their variation of the non-exchange of greeting cards idea was to post individual cards on an office bulletin board, and save the balance for Children's.

The real estate experts of the Northern Virginia Board of Realtors Inc.

"searched for ways to help our fellow men, or in this case, children." They found Children's Hospital, and, to quote, "the unique and long-lasting feeling this gesture of giving imparts to each individual." They collected $185 to help provide medical care for needy children.

Grabbing top honors today were employees of Infodata Systems Inc. They sent 13 check totaling $245.60. That brings their overall total since joining us in 1973 to more than $1,300. Many thanks and a tip of the hat to you.

These five groups added $631.31 to today's total.Together with the $704.50 contributed by 26 unnamed District Liners, we gathered $1,335.81 to assist needy children. Inasmuch as the shoebox held $169,659.58 at our weekend close, it now contains $170,995.39.