Three weeks are in the books, and our annual eight-week fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital is showing welcome signs of life.

A week ago, Levey was glooming around in the bass clef because we had fallen behind the comparable total of a year ago by nearly $20,000. We are still behind where we were in 1998-99, but not by as much.

Strike up the treble clef if you would, please, maestro. As the gang on Wall Street would say, we're trending in the right direction.

Here are the Week Three numbers:

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

In hand as of Dec. 16: $156,286.31.

In hand last year at the same time: $171,305.58.

Don't rush for the abacus. I've already done the subtraction. We trail last year's Week Three level by about $15,000. Sure, we'd like to be ahead of it, but we will take progress wherever we find it.

I'm hoping that the next five weeks produce progress and plenty of it.

If the holiday spirit doesn't inspire you to make a gift, perhaps an office Christmas party will, or an office tradition of gathering a generous group gift in lieu of giving presents or cards to officemates. Or perhaps you'd like to make a donation in honor of a grandchild, a grandparent, a recently deceased friend, a child's teacher.

Regardless of the spur, we work toward only one result. Every cent we raise through this column goes to pay the medical bills of Children's Hospital patients whose families cannot. No donation has ever gone for any other purpose, and none ever will as long as my fingers can tap the keys.

Our Children's Hospital drive is in its 51st consecutive year. I often say it's a Washington tradition, but unlike some that have hatched here, this one pays lasting, worthy benefits.

Please get behind our effort. We rely on readers just like you. Many thanks for your support, from me and from the children you're helping.

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.