And so we begin again. For a hospital. For a community. For children.

Today marks the beginning of the 34th annual holiday fund-raising drive undertaken by The Washington Post on behalf of Children's Hospital National Medical Center. It's my pleasure to be at the wheel for the second time.

As I did last year, I have prepared for this year's drive in careful fashion. I have laid in an eight-week supply of sugarless chewing gum. I have oiled down my two typing fingers (yes, two -- I never quite graduated to 10). As my high school football coach used to say, I'm ready, Teddy.

Ready for what? Simple. To try, with your help, to outdo last year's record total.

That will be a taller order than in many years past, for the best of reasons. The 1981-82 campaign netted a total of $320,764.11. That was 25 percent above the previous record, which was established in 1979-80.

There's only one way to describe an outpouring of community support that produces 320 grand.

Outstanding.

But we need to be outstanding again. We need another "best year ever" just to keep pace.

I'm sure you can understand why. The same inflation that has turned your household budget into wishful thinking has visited Children's, too. What cost the hospital $1 last year costs it $1.10 this year. Without continuing -- and increased -- support from those of us in the community, the hospital may have to reduce or eliminate certain services.

That may not seem so serious at first blush. After all, you might be saying, the hospital's never going to do away with its emergency room or its intensive-care unit. So what if they lop off a few social workers?

The answer is that healing a sick child isn't like healing a sick car. One "mechanic" isn't enough.

A sick child may have psychological problems. He may need weeks of rehabilitation, or years of specialized nursing care.

You might be able to "cure" part of a child's illness in an emergency room or an I.C.U. But Children's doesn't stop there -- and doesn't want to stop there. With our help, it won't have to.

Last year, I was blessed with two excellent assistants in the Children's Hospital effort: Rob Graettinger and Charlise Lyles. This year, the streak continues, I feel sure, with the arrival of Annie Koch.

During the rest of the year, Annie is a news aide on The Post's night city desk. Her job is to handle the phones and check up on police news. She also answers the call when an editor on deadline (who can be a mean beast) starts shouting that he needs to know how to spell a name in the next three minutes and 14 seconds. With Annie, 3:13 is usually enough.

She also has a claim to fame that's a little different. Her words have been on page one of this newspaper more times in the last year than anyone else's.

How so? Take a look at the weather forecast in the upper left-hand corner. Annie is the one who writes "Fair and warmer," and other such meteorological morsels, five days out of every seven.

Annie has a special feeling for Children's Hospital because she has a special feeling for Washington. She has lived here most of her life, and she's a talented writer who has an eye and an ear for kids. I'm looking forward to reading her reports on life at Children's, which will be interspersed with mine.

In addition to Annie's arrival, this year's campaign will be different in another major respect. Levey won't be taking a powder.

Last year, as many of you will remember, Emily Susanna Levey decided to arrive on Dec. 16. Her timing couldn't have been much worse for her father, since the pre-Christmas week is when the steady flow of checks turns into a flood. But how many times is your first child born? Old Dad ducked out for two weeks, leaving Rob and Charlise at the helm. They tell me they're still seeing envelopes in their sleep.

This year, assisted by Annie, I expect to bear the full brunt. Let's make it a brunt worthy of the name.

As in the past, I'm looking for a particularly generous response from organizations and groups. If your club or lodge or office coffee canteen is seeking a charity to "adopt" this holiday season, seek no further. As always, the name of any group that contributes to the campaign will be published in this column, in bold face type, regardless of amount.

Of course, that isn't meant as a slight to individual donors. We want you. We need you. We love you. We can't hope to have another outstanding year without you.

But we simply don't have room to publish all your names. We're expecting more than 5,000 gifts from individuals this year. To list all of you would turn Bob Levey's Washington into a pale imitation of the phone book. So as you reach for your checkbooks, we hope you understand.

And as you reach, we hope you'll find it in your hearts -- and balances -- to give as much as you can.

If you have contributed to past campaigns, we welcome you back, with the hope that you can squeeze out a few more dollars than you gave last year. If you're new to the area, or new to The Post, let me welcome you with the magic words that veteran givers know and love: your donation to Children's is tax deductible.

One word to you comics fans: the extra space for this column during the campaign has been donated by the producers of two strips: "Ziggy" and "Full Disclosure." Those two strips have been suspended for the next eight weeks. Both will be back late in January.

Finally, let me explain why Children's is the Charity of Choice.

There are many worthy institutions in our community. But only Children's does the job for kids from every part of the Washington area. Only Children's helps every child, regardless of his family's ability to pay. Only Children's gives "full service treatment" to every child.

Children's Hospital has been a pillar of strength in this community since 1870. It has bound this community together like nothing else. It has done so by saving lives.

In this city today, thousands of former Children's patients are going about their business. You'd never know to look at them that they might be dead today -- or still hospitalized -- if it weren't for the excellent care they received.

But they know.

And their parents and children and grandchildren know.

So, in this 1982-83 campaign, won't you give generously? Children's Hospital needs you. So do the kids it helps.