It's time to climb the mountain once again. It's time to help the people in our midst who need it most. It's time to kick off the 1990-'91 fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's National Medical Center.

This is the 10th consecutive November I've blown the whistle to start the Children's Hospital campaign. It's the 42nd consecutive holiday season during which The Washington Post has raised funds for the hospital. It's a great pleasure to be at the controls once more. Yet we have our work cut out for us this time around.

A year ago, thanks to you generous readers, we set a record I never thought we'd approach, much less reach. Our final tally for 1989-'90 was $562,410.37. That marked the first time we had exceeded $500,000, and it brought the total under my stewardship to more than $3.5 million.

Can we top $562,000 this time around? I sincerely hope so. But I read the papers -- and my own checking account balance -- the same way you do. I know a serious recession is either upon us, or about to be. We may well be in for tough sledding.

But we won't be if all you previous donors come through for us once again -- and if readers who have never given before write a check this time around.

Why should you? For the best possible reason. Your money all goes to help children whose families are too poor to pay medical bills. Yet these kids are treated every single day at Children's regardless of their ability to pay -- and regardless of their race, creed, color, sex, national origin or Zip Code.

Many hospitals brag about an open-door policy, but the doors at Children's have always opened just a little wider than others. The hospital has done heroic, life-saving work for this community since 1870. If your child has ever been a patient there, as my son has, you know what I mean.

As always, we hope for support from individuals. We heard from nearly 5,000 of you last year. We'd like to do even better this year.

The rest of our support comes from groups of all sorts. Nearly 1,000 groups contributed a year ago. We'd like to do better there, too, especially among groups that are looking for a worthy charity in the spirit of the season. If your office would like to donate, or your church choir, or your bowling team, all the information you need appears at the end of today's column. As always, every group contributor will be acknowledged in bold-face type right here in Bob Levey's Washington.

Another source of funds we'd like to tap into this year is matching-gift programs. They're offered through many of the area's major employers. Check with your personnel or employee relations office, fill out the appropriate forms and just like that, your gift can become two or three times larger.

Our Penny Army is standing by, too. Joyce Hardy and Margo "Action" Jackson, the phone operators in our newsroom, always help our drive by counting pennies contributed by the public. Last year, we raised about $6,000 in pennies and other coins that readers just happened to have sitting around. We'd love to double or triple that amount in 1990-'91. Bring your change to the front desk of the Post (1150 15th St. NW.) during business hours. Joyce and Margo will take it from there.

We're also delighted to report that foreign coins and bills are again welcome this year. Riggs National Bank will exchange them and turn the results over to our campaign, free of charge.

And if you haven't bought tickets to our Children's Hospital kickoff party this Saturday, don't delay. Little Anthony, a rock star from the 1950s, will be on hand to lead an evening of dancing and (as we fossils used to say) fun, fun, fun.

The name of the event is Bob Levey's Happy Days Dance. The site is the Ramada Renaissance Hotel, 999 Ninth Street NW. Tickets are $35 apiece. The Post will donate $10 to Children's Hospital for every ticket sold. Call 202-334-7969 for reservations and further information.

Finally, we're pleased to offer a pair of prizes this year. To the largest individual contributor: four tickets to the Bullets-Atlanta basketball game at Capital Centre on Jan. 23. To the second largest contributor: four seats to the Capitals-Winnipeg hockey game on Feb. 2. The tickets were donated by Bob Zurfluh of the Capital Centre. To Bob, a large tip of the cap.

Our final piece of business is to introduce the woman who'll help me tell the Children's story over the next eight weeks. She's Alexandra Stoddard, a talented young reporter whose work you'll soon be reading. I look forward to having her on board.

So the stage is set. Are you ready to play a leading role? Please make a contribution today, while you're thinking about it. No cash, please. All gifts to the campaign are tax-deductible.

Let's go over the top for the kids once more. Many thanks in advance.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.