UNICEF Change for Good -- a project to collect travelers' leftover foreign coins -- has raised almost $4,500 from transatlantic passengers on one airline's New York-London route in just two weeks. The money will be used to buy a sugar-and-salt solution that can save children from fatal dehydration and to immunize children against six diseases.

Meanwhile, in Washington, a group with the same name but no UNICEF affiliation is also asking for spare foreign change, and it raised about $700 at a recent party at American Red Cross headquarters launching the project. The money will fund a program with the Washington International Youth Hostel, said Sandy Shea, cofounder of the local group.

Each group says it didn't know about the other until this week. Representatives of the two groups have talked by phone and agreed that despite the same name, the groups have no conflict as long as they are operating in different cities with different fund-raising methods.

The idea and the name for the UNICEF project were suggested by Howard Simons, curator of Harvard University's Nieman Foundation, in a July 1985 article in The Wall Street Journal. Simons said this week that the UNICEF program aims to "collect wasted money to save wasted lives. It's taken two years to work out, but it's taken off now."

The project began with Virgin Atlantic Airways, headed by balloonist Richard Branson, on its flights between London and New York.

"We're hoping that after the three-month trial, the major airlines will join us," Simons said. "If we could sign them up, we could raise $40 million in a year. I'm as excited as I have been about anything -- the potential is enormous to save children who don't have to die."

Ten cents will save one child from dehydration and $5 will provide the immunizations, according to Larry Bruce, president of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF.

"Canisters for collecting such dead money have been put in airports before, but they weren't either safe or effective," said David Wood, the committee's special project officer. So he came up with a simple and workable plan.

On Virgin's flights between New York and London, rock star Phil Collins appears on the movie screen and explains the project, referring passengers to an article and accompanying envelope in Hot Air, the in-flight magazine.

Passengers put their change in the envelopes (though at least one who couldn't find the envelope put his in the bag provided for other purposes). Flight attendants collect the envelopes, put the money in a pouch and turn it in at the airport.

UNICEF collects the pouches and returns them to their country of origin. In London, Midlands Bank counts the British pounds and credits UNICEF. In New York, First Fidelity Bank handles the dollars. Money from other countries is handled by Midlands.

The Washington group incorporated as a nonprofit organization last August, but didn't begin operations until January. Instead of collecting on planes or at the airport, the group is putting globe banks in stores and businesses and also hopes to collect money on Adams-Morgan Day, Sept. 13; from the fountain at National Place; and at a theater troupe's performances.

The three principals are Shea, a former teacher who is pursuing a master's degree from the University of Colorado; David Barker, a producer of seminars; and Hollis Bright, an audiovisual producer.

Shea said they contract their services to Washington's Change for Good, and will take one fourth of the donations for their salaries and administrative costs. He said he and Barker got the idea when they heard on the radio of a similar program in South America.

"We hope to give the youth hostel $48,500 by next April for a program to help handicapped and low-income Washington young people meet international travelers," Shea said. "And if we have any more money, it will go for an exhibit at Children's Museum."

Simons wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "No matter how well we try to plan, we always are stuck with loose change when we get to the airport. And I mean stuck. The duty-free shops and other stalls at international airports cannot be bothered selling anything for whatever coinage we have left. Not even inexpensive candy. In Spain, for example, we had a 100-peseta coin worth about 57 cents. I still have it. Moreover, when it comes to changing money abroad or at home, almost no bank -- maybe none -- will take a few odd coins of small denomination" ...

"The figures on just how many malnourished children there are in the world are staggering. UNICEF estimates that roughly 40 percent of the children under age 5 in the developing world, excluding China, suffer from chronic protein energy malnutrition."