One good way to defer reporting bad news is to establish new goals, and quietly abandon the old ones.

Yesterday I said we were falling about $10,000 behind last year's pace.That's a shame because it leaves Children's Hospital facing the double spectre of our indifference and everyone's inflation. The costs of providing free medical care to needy children are rising inexorably.

Let's put that in the backs of our minds for now and turn our attention towards getting caught up with last year's New Year's Day total of $86,074.94.

At the start of our daily report, the shoebox held $52,311.37. In order to catch up with last year, we have to collect about $34,000 over the next four weekdays, counting today. That's over $8,000 a day. I'm going to try to remain optimistic.

Getting us started this morning were 47 letters from private individuals, never mentioned here by name, containing $1,285 in checks. Additional messages of support backed by cash came from 17 area groups and employers.

A "late arrival" of $5 from a former member of the Kensington Bridge Club was sent from Germany. And another $10 appeared from the Tantallon Christmas Party thrown by Harry J. Ginter Associates.

The Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo sent $20. The Bethesda Merrill Lynch office staff welcomed their new manager with a $25 gift to Children's Hospital. Three women in an unnamed office sent $35 instead of exhanging gifts among themselves.

The Little Old Ladies Bridge Club collected $43 this year. The staff of the graduate school of arts and sciences at George Washington University also elected not to exchange gifts saving $60 for the kids. The National Cartographic Information Center placed a huge office Christmas card in their lobby, diverting $70 to the hospital that otherwise might have been spent on greeting cards.

The third graders at Hayfield Elementary School in Alexandria gathered $76 for their less fortunate peers instead of buying Christmas gifts for their teachers. That's a fine effort!

Two checks for $100 made it through the mail pipeline this morning. One came from the Radio Production Department of Arbitron in Laurel, the other from the Interior Department's Division of Publication, Bureau of Mines.

Eleven classes of civic-minded youngsters attending Virginia's Sterling Elementary School collected money totalling $158.24. Many thanks are due to students.

"Knowing the enclosed $273 will be put to good use, we sincerely hope our contribution to Childrens Hospital will help make Christmas a little brighter," wrote 10 members of the Department of Research and Education at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

A pair of $500 checks arrived. The Division of Labor-Management Laws, Office of the Solicitor at the Labor Department, sent their contribution in lieu of exchanging Christmas cards. Using the same method, members of the Communications Division and the Radio Maintenance Branch of the Metropolitan Police Department raised half a grand.

A letter from 34 members of the Army's Coastal Engineering Research Center said, "No Card Exchange, and Here's the Change." It contained $569. That's not small change, you'll agree.

Heavyweight honors today went to the Progress Club of Rockville, which is "dedicated to the needs of others." Club members took Santa Clause to Children's Hospital last week, and decided to top off a great day by sending in their annual contribution ot the shoebox. This year they sent $1,500!

Those 17 sent a combined total of $4,044.24, which, when added to the $1,285 already mentioned, gives us a figure of $5,329.24. The shoebox held $52,311.37 at the start of our tally, so my guess is that it now holds $57,640.61. The cordless calculator confirms my guess.

Well, I can't complain too much on a $5,300 day. Nonetheless, I think this year we may be plagued by procrastinators with good intentions but slow reflexes. I'm starting to worry about the outcome of this year's drive.

So, don't delay any longer. Please join the battle against the "built-in deficit" at Children's Hospital. Send your tax-deductible check, made payable to Children's Hospital, to: Scott Chase c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C.

I'll add you to our honor roll.