It's true in any business. You can hang a sign on the door, but that doesn't make you good at what you do. It's the people inside who make you or break you. Are they willing to walk the extra mile? Are they willing to walk an extra two?

At Children's Hospital, technology is stupefyingly advanced. So are the drugs that patients receive. So are the education, experience and skill of the staff.

But how do you measure the ability to care? The staff at Children's has that, by the bushel. That's why the hospital has been a pillar of this community for 129 years. That's why we raise funds for its poorest patients every year.

Our 1999-2000 drive is nearing the end of its second week. As you can see at the bottom of today's column, we are still a few gross national products short of our $650,000 goal.

But we'd bridge that gap effortlessly if you readers could see what I have seen over the years at Children's. For instance . . .

An emergency room nurse is coming to the end of a 12-hour shift. For the last four hours, she has been working the triage desk, where she evaluates each new patient and decides who needs to be seen soonest.

The triage job can dull the senses, because very few children are hanging within an inch of their lives, even in the E.R. You tend to see one runny nose after another.

But when a little girl was placed on the examining table late on the night in question, it didn't take the triage nurse more than a second to react.

"Code! Code!" she screamed as she carried the child at a run to the room where the most seriously ill patients are examined.

No big deal to sprint down a corridor, you say? What if I told you that the nurse had wrecked her right foot in a skiing accident just a few days before?

What if I told you that it was wrapped in a hard cast--and running when you're wearing a cast is a very bad idea, not to mention quite hard to do? What if I told you that none of that mattered to this nurse? A child was sick, and her life needed to be saved.

It was. By caring.

A doctor in the oncology unit is assigned a new patient--a boy of about 15. The doctor has been around cancer a long time, long enough to know that it can be dicey to build relationships with patients. Some die, and that never gets easier to take.

But this doctor develops a special attachment to the 15-year-old because the boy says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up. The boy is seriously ill. He may not make it. Still, the doctor brings in her old medical school textbooks and goes through them with the boy, on her own time, giving him a taste of what medical school will be like.

The boy survives. Years later, he goes to medical school. Another check mark for caring.

A nurse is coming off the all-night shift. I pass her in the parking lot. The only question is whether her eyes are drooping worse than her shoulders. This woman is bone weary, and it shows from 50 feet away.

She is homing in or her Honda when her pager goes off. The woman knows what this will be. Someone has called in sick, and the boss wants her to work an additional 12-hour shift, starting right away.

If this were my boss, I would say yes, but not before a few self-pitying sighs that would shake the rafters. This woman simply opened her cellular phone, dialed a number, listened for a few seconds and said, "Sure"--because she cared.

So do you readers, every year. You support our Children's campaign to an extent that no readers match, anywhere.

It is wonderful to sit here, day after day, and watch the fat envelopes come rolling in. How great to see a supposedly cold-hearted community give a you-know-what. How great to see people who have it good, and know they have it good, helping children who are not as fortunate and are slowed or flattened by illness.

And how great to see you readers respond to the guiding principle of this campaign: that world-class health care at Children's should go to every child, regardless of the family's ability to pay. If we don't assure the poorest children among us that they have an equal right to excellent care, then we don't have the kind of community we want to have.

Every cent we raise through Bob Levey's Washington goes to pay medical bills of children whose families cannot. No money is ever diverted for overhead, conventions or further fund-raising. This is truly one check that you can feel good about writing.

Caring. It's what Children's Hospital is all about. It's also what your gift is all about. Please give--today, while you're thinking about it. We are aiming for a record year. You and only you can help us get there.

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Dec. 4: $76,800.12.

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.

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.