Break out the worry beads. With just fifteen days to go, our 1999 Send a Kid to Camp campaign is severely undernourished.

As you can see at the bottom of today's column, we are nowhere close to our goal of $550,000. At this rate, we will fall well short of last year's record "take" ($536,449.64). We may even fall short of last year's goal ($500,000).

If I could tell you why some fund-raising campaigns wax and some wane, I'd be both smart and rich -- and I'm neither. But I do know one thing: Fifteen days is plenty of time to turn a balky campaign into a boisterous one.

In fact, Send a Kid to Camp is well known for "late foot," as they say at the racetrack. In each of the last 10 camp campaigns, we have raised as much money in the last two weeks as we did in the previous six. If that pattern holds in 1999, we will come within sniffing range of our goal, and perhaps surge past it at the last minute.

But past is never prologue in the fund-raising game. We can't count on last-minute money because we're soliciting right in the heart of the summer, when families are spending big bucks on their own summer plans.

At the same time, we can't just sit back and hope. So starting today, we will bang the drum louder than usual. Plain and simple, folks: We need help.

If you're new to town, new to The Post or new to Send a Kid to Camp, let me restate what this is all about.

We hope to send nearly 1,000 underprivileged children to camp this summer. The children come from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. They attend Camp Moss Hollow, in Markham, Va., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our campers all have had difficult childhoods. They are foster children, adopted children, emotionally troubled children, children who have been in trouble with the law -- and sometimes all four. Many have never been to the country before. Some have never spent a night away from home before.

At Moss Hollow, the children play sports, learn arts and crafts, tinker on computers, conduct science experiments, take overnight hikes and swim every day. But just as important, children learn to be leaders, to work in groups, to respect counselors, to cooperate. Send a Kid to Camp is not just a way to give a child a joyride in the woods. It's a way to build solid citizens.

The money we raise through this campaign does not go into some supplementary kitty, or some hedge fund. This is the basic fuel. Either we come up with this dough or children who expect to go to camp will not go.

We're happy to accept checks or money orders. We're not happy to accept cash, because it has a tendency to stroll into someone else's pocket on its way to me. However, we will accept American coins, foreign coins and foreign bills.

Please bring all cash donations to The Washington Post's main headquarters, 1150 15th St. NW, during business hours, in a container with my name on the outside. We'll also gladly accept credit card pledges (details below).

All donations to Send a Kid to Camp are deductible on state and federal income tax returns, as long as you itemize deductions. All donations will be acknowledged, and all are deeply appreciated, regardless of amount.

I've been pounding an adding machine for too long to trust in feelings rather than figures. But I have a strong hunch that we can still pull the 1999 campaign out of the swamps.

One method is stock donations. Last month, a woman gave us 200 shares of Coca-Cola, which was worth a cold, refreshing $12,000. If you have some securities that have appreciated, what better way to put that "found wealth" to work than by helping needy kids?

Another method is matching gifts. Hundreds of area employers offer these programs. It's an easy way to double or triple your donation.

I'm also hopeful because the economy of the Washington area is booming. More of us are working than ever before, and most of us are making more than ever before. Americans have always been the "giving-est" people on earth. But that's a lot easier to do when you have extra money in the bank. If that describes you, please consider our program.

There's another reason to climb aboard: tradition. So many people say (and believe) that nothing in Washington lasts, or extends across generations. But Send a Kid to Camp has been cranking for more than half a century now (and for 18 years on my watch). In the best sense, it is a hometown favorite. It deserves your support.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of July 9: $221,736.89.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.