A small piece of paper fell out of a contributor's letter. It was the torn flap of a Children's Hospital National Medical Center letterhead envelop.

Handwritten across the top was an unexpected question: "Is this the same as your 'Children's Hospital?'"

It sure is! There's only one Children's Hospital National Medical Center, and the people of Our Town are very fortunate that it's here.

"It was created to provide the child with the most supportive atmosphere health professionals can function with optimum efficiency," explains a hospital publication. It contains the most advanced medical equipment operated by the finest technicians and physicians. And it also comes complete with the "built-in deficit."

That's because Children's was chartered 110 years ago to provide gratuitous medical and surgical treatment to needy children "without distinction of race, creed or sex. . . ."

Providing that treatment is what puts Children's in the red every year. A business can't exist that way for over a century without a well-earned reputation and the support of the community.

So every year around Christmastime, District Liners and thousands of friends of children around the world join hands and loosen wallets. In one annual avalanche of generosity, many give themselves a gift that goes far beyond the wonderful feeling it creates or the value of the money involved. The combined support of thousands insurers the continuity and quality of medical care at Children's.

But why speculate on the origin of the generosity? it's so easy to contributute to a cause where the good works are universally recognized. And I'm sitting down here at The Washington Post just waiting to tell you about our fellow citizens, their motives, their methods, and our successes.

Here's one from a private group that's little different:

"Enclosed are four checks totaling $103.25. They represents the efforts of a group of friends to turn a good time into something worthwhile.

"We conceived the idea of holding a party once a month, charging a 'per head' price, and sending all the profits to Children's Hospital. These checks are from our Dec. party."

These people don't waste time. Their idea has already generated a very substantial contribution, more than many organizations can afford on an annual basis. But they have parties already scheduled for the next three months, and they advised me to "look for next month's checks."

Let's change the subject for just a minute. Unfortunately, our annual fund-raiser is quickly approaching its conclusion. Your donation must be postmarked no later than Jan. 31 to be included in this year's tally.

So, no more waiting.The letters coming in after the deadline will be held in the nearly-empty shoebox to give next year's campaign a running start. Why should the funds you've earmarked for Children's Hospital grace a 30-year-old shoebox when they could be helping save young lives?

a $50 check arrived from a gentleman who has really learned to discern the important parts of employment. He wrote, "Missed an opportunity through my organization to contribute to the hospital so I'm making sure I add my two cents." He learned, and now he's teaching by example. Our next anonymous donor is a young woman who doesn't need any lessons. She wrote, "I make it a practice to tithe my salary and the money usually goes to my church. I'm sure the Lord will approve of my sending this check to help Children's Hospital help all His children." She enclosed $52.

A check for $100 was delivered from a family thankful "for accumulated years of mental and physical health and other blessings."

Those letters were just a sampling of the 21 received today from unnamed individuals for a total of $662.13. There's just enough room to boost our total with a few organizational gifts.

Members of the American Geophysical Union reached the zenith of their eight years of participation with a contribution of $300.

This simple message accompanying a check for $352 from the folks at Jensen Manufacturing Co. in Alexandria said it all: "Contributions by employees in lieu of Christmas card exchange, matched by company."

Concern for the welfare of others extends well beyond the wild blue yonder for the Air Traffic Controllers and staff operating the control tower at Washington National Airport. Continuous supporters since 1964, they sent a contribution of $1,900, their highest total ever. The sky is not the limit in the control tower. We thank you.

These three groups added $2,552 to the $662.13 contributed by unknown friends, bringing today's total to $3,214.13. Inasmuch as the shoebox held $160,536.45 yesterday, we're now heading down home stretch with $163,750.58 tucked away in the shoebox.