Between bites of miniature quiches and sips of scotch, guests at Washington parties go about their real business: crafting alliances and compromises, perfecting unspoken agreements and quiet deals. And Lenore Horowitz knows Washington.

"You have to cajole -- with some tact and a big smile," says Horowitz, who works the parties for Match-Up, the charity she created to help needy children in the Washington area. The name was an obvious choice: Horowitz matches corporations that are interested (or can be persuaded to become interested) in donating prescription drugs, vitamins, food, toys, clothing, books and anything else to local clinics, orphanages and shelters.

"Washington is about people matching things up," says Horowitz, who runs the charity with partner Elizabeth Wallace out of their kitchens with no staff and no pay. "I'm sort of my own lobbyist. Elizabeth and I are lobbyists for children and we go on the same circuit as the other lobbyists.

"At one party, I was sitting next to a trade representative, telling him about Match-Up, and I said, 'My objective for tonight is three contacts. I have two so far.' He said, 'So you have one to go?' and I said, 'No. You're it.' "

Match-Up serves as the conduit between donors and recipients, processing requests, soliciting donations and providing the assurance that the donated goods will go directly to the children who need them, with no time- and money-consuming bureaucracy getting in the way. Such a charity may sound obvious, but no one involved has heard of anything else like it.

Joe Jenckes, Washington vice president for Abbott Laboratories, was one of Match-Up's earliest supporters. "If you knew how many charity dinners I've been to -- you pay your money and you hope. Lenore, I think, got the product to some people. It was no big deal -- it wasn't thousands and thousands of dollars. It's very low-key."

But it adds up. More than 80 companies are now involved, including Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's and Coca-Cola, and Horowitz estimates that last year Match-Up passed on about $150,000 worth of goods.

Match-Up drugs go to children who might otherwise not be treated for illnesses ranging from chronic ear infections to strep throat to asthma to pneumonia. Often, the children's parents make just a little too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to pay for the medicine the kids need. Clinics provide free medical care, but rarely can help with the price of the drugs the doctors prescribe.

"It was sad, before we got help from Match-Up, to be able to provide the medical care, and then send a patient out the door with a piece of paper in their hand and know they couldn't afford the medicine -- to know it would be a choice between food or medicine," says Karla Roskos, executive director of Prince George's County Greater Baden Medical Services clinic.

Maryland Medicaid does not pay for over-the-counter drugs, says Roskos, so babies with fevers often went without the Tylenol drops they needed, children without the vitamins, anemic mothers without the iron. Match-Up provides these and also tides over patients waiting the month or more it takes Medicaid applications to be processed.

"It may sound somewhat corny, somewhat sentimental," says Horowitz, "but I could provide everything for my children and wanted to make sure other children got the same. There are many people who don't fit the strict and growing stricter guidelines of Medicaid, but whose children need the prescriptions anyway.

"There are more people now, more children, who are going without health care than there were when we came to Washington nine years ago," she says.

Horowitz made her first match up at Christmas time when she noticed a pile of discounted toys at her Safeway. She persuaded the store manager to sell them all to her for about $25 on the condition she take them to the Rockville Christmas Toy Drive.

When Horowitz arrived at the Toy Drive with her pack of toys, "they were astonished," she says. "I said, 'I think you should send a letter to the manager so he can pass it up to the higher levels so he can get whatever credit he can, and maybe tell him which families they've helped.' "

Two lessons learned: Matching up worked, and a little graceful gratitude helped, too.

Soon, Horowitz was talking to clinics and shelters and working every party she and her husband Larry, chief of staff to Sen. Edward Kennedy, attended. With two children and then three and then four, she made phone calls "working around naps" and typed requests and thank-you notes late at night, at the same time juggling a part-time job teaching remedial English at American University.

* Wallace -- who specializes in what Horowitz says "we're trying to call 'unserved food' now," got involved a year and a half ago after attending a reception at the Corcoran Gallery with her husband, NBC White House correspondent Chris Wallace.

"You walk in and it's such a lavish spread," she says. "We were there near the end and there were mountains of food left. There was a table of fresh fruit and even if every waiter took some home, there would be lots left to waste."

With the orgy of presidential inaugural parties coming up, Wallace called around and arranged for corporate hosts to donate their leftovers to Martha's Table, a soup kitchen where Wallace had worked. The food is served to the 100 or so children who eat there every day, and by now a number of catering companies are quite used to passing along the "unserved food" to the kitchen.

The McDonald's connection came about through Horowitz in predictable fashion.

"We went to the McDonald's congressional family reception," says Horowitz. "Elizabeth wanted to get the leftovers, but she couldn't get to the right person. I went in, I saw all that food -- there was so much I couldn't even eat myself. I thought, 'We've got to get this.' I left Larry -- poor Larry -- I stuck him with the kids and I said, 'I'm going to go look at the name tags.' "

The name tags yielded just the right McDonald's executive: He predicted the reception wouldn't have any leftovers, but out of that meeting came McDonald's offer to donate one full meal a month at Martha's Table. The usual peanut butter sandwiches at the soup kitchen are replaced with hamburgers, but because french fries don't travel well, the burgers come fryless, which gave Horowitz an idea.

"P.S. Do you know anyone in potato chips?" she concluded in a recent letter explaining Match-Up.

And, it seems, someone did.

"I think," she says now, "I'm closing in on the potato chips."