On this day of thanks, how should we express ours to U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf? Washingtonians have concocted a wide variety of ways and means. If the spirit moves you to hop on board any of the following trains, that's precisely the idea.

Individual soldiers can receive mail and gifts through their units. Addresses are available through the appropriate branch of the service. However, the Postal Service has established special, general addresses if you want to send greetings or presents to a soldier you don't know.

For Army, Air Force and Marine ground personnel, the address is: Any Service Member, Operation Desert Shield, APO New York, 09848-0006.

For all sea service personnel, the address is: Any Service Member, Operation Desert Shield, FPO New York, 09866-0006.

Major Kathy Wood at the Pentagon says you can send anything to these addresses that you'd be allowed to send through stateside mail.

According to the public affairs office at Fort Belvoir, these items are allowed and encouraged: candy, personal hygiene items, boxes of detergent, games, audio cassettes, sports equipment, hobby supplies and reading material.

Allowed but discouraged: chocolate (it melts in the desert heat, not in your mouth), chocolate chip cookies (the chips melt too) and packages wrapped in see-through tape (the stickiness will quit sticking because of the heat, and packages may fly open at inopportune times -- use strapping tape instead).

Specifically prohibited because of local customs: alcoholic beverages, pork products, potentially provocative political materials and anything sexually explicit. (On this last one, let utter conservatism be your guide. According to the mother of one Desert Shield soldier who tried and failed with the current Playboy, even the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, relatively tame on these shores, would be far, far out of bounds.)

The local chapter of the USO has developed some excellent programs. Today, with the generous cooperation of the Ritz Carlton hotel at Pentagon City, a free Thanksgiving dinner is being served to 250 relatives of Washington-area Desert Shield military personnel. They're organizing a similar feed for Christmas Day, according to Elaine Rogers of the USO. Desert Shield families should call 703-696-2552 for further information.

Meanwhile, starting this Saturday, the USO will be selling "Season of Support" postcard-style Christmas cards at The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. The cards are pre-addressed to "Any Service Member." They'll sell for $1 apiece. Each card has space for a personal message of holiday cheer and support. The cards will be on sale beside the Santa Claus photo booth.

If Northern Virginia is inconvenient, The Washington Hilton hotel has set up a holiday Desert Shield mailbox in its lobby. The hotel will provide postcards and stamps to anyone who wants to send a holiday greeting to U.S. soldiers. The hotel's address is 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW.

At Fort Belvoir, wives of soldiers in the 437th Military Police Company are making use of available space on military transport flights to send toiletries to the troops. Capt. Bill Benner in Belvoir's public information office also suggests that Levey readers contact the Defense Logistics Agency Donation Hotline, which is collecting goods to send to Saudi Arabia, also on a space-available basis. The hot line's number is 703-274-3561.

If your house is like mine, the pantry is still full of Halloween candy that was never given out on Oct. 31. A reader in Gaithersburg had a great idea: Why not mail the candy to the troops? They'll be more grateful than your waistline ever will.

Do you work in an office that would like to help, but hasn't quite been able to figure out how? The gang at the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service in Alexandria took a cue from Mary Morris of the public information staff. The result was a cookie-thon that quickly involved more than 50 volunteers.

More than 200 pounds of cookies went Saudi-ward on Nov. 16. And get this: Woodward & Lothrop provided the postage, even though the store's free-shipment-to-Desert-Shield program expired the day before.

In Waldorf, Eva Turner Elementary School showed how kids can get involved. More than 600 students and faculty members connected their handprints together into a large banner. Then each Turnerite wrote a personal message inside his or her print. The results were mailed to Steven Forinash, a marine serving in the Gulf whose mother, Patsy Forinash, is a Turner teacher.

Finally, if you want to say thanks to our Desert Shielders but don't have time to shop, look no farther than Baskets of Love, a custom gift basket company in Kensington. Chief basketeer Leslie Ann Snyder is offering a $39 Persian Gulf special for the holidays. It weighs just less than five pounds, and includes powdered Gatorade, snacks, puzzles, toiletries, even a book of Far Side cartoons. Call 301-946-0098 for orders and information.