These are the times that tilt one's scales. Perhaps, in 2000, the scales will tilt in the right direction.

Our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital, begun nearly seven weeks ago, is heading for the finish line. If you've been keeping tabs on the drive, you know that we are poised to meet our goal and to set a single-year Children's record.

But it ain't over until it's over, as that noted fund-raiser Yogi Berra once said. We need to step up the pace in the final week of the 1999-2000 campaign.

Tomorrow, I will report the official seven-week totals. But in case you're the type who hates suspense . . .

We're close to a record. Very close. But this isn't horseshoes. We need fence-sitters and maybe-birds to head for their checkbooks between now and Jan. 21, the closing date for the drive. Without a final-week boost, we may fall agonizingly short.

As Brother Berra would understand, the comparison between baseball and our Children's fund-raising drive is pretty close. At this point in the game, we can sit back and hope for three-run home runs. Or we can win the game with a bunch of singles.

Translation: We can hope for one blockbusting check to send us over the top. Or we can hope for a large collection of smallish checks.

The second outcome is far more likely than the first. It's also the hallmark of this drive. Our average donation is about $35. No Rockefeller or Getty has ever contributed. We are a little-guy campaign, and proud of it.

But we can always use more little guys, and as we near the midpoint of January, the need is acute.

If you haven't yet contributed to our campaign, won't you please send a check today? It'll be your chance to support a Washington tradition and to help sick kids whose families are too poor to pay their medical bills.

I'm well aware that there are many worthy charities, in the Washington area and elsewhere. But your Children's Hospital gift does so much of what needs doing.

First and foremost, it assures top-quality medical care to children who might otherwise not get it because their families can't pay for it.

Second, it supports a critically important community institution. Children's Hospital has been healing the sick since 1870. World capital Washington often makes headlines, but Children's Hospital touches hearts.

Third, your gift provides a tax deduction (if you itemize deductions). And if your check is part of a group gift, it assures that group of a boldface mention in Levey's column.

Will the story of 1999-2000 be so near and yet so far, or will it be a record? The answer lies with readers just like you.

If life has been good to you--and it has been very good to many of us--why not share and commemorate some of that success? At Children's, they perform miracles every day. They'll go right on doing it with your help.

Why do people give to our campaign? Some voices from the mail sack . . .

Judy McGowan gave $75 to honor the teachers of her three children. She says she'll honor those teachers in a different way if she hears complaints. However, "to date, all I have received are happy tears and notes of gratitude. I have yet to see a mug, frame or bottle of perfume move any teachers to tears!" Judy writes.

Madeleine Rae Arnoult, of Frederick, Md., gave $20 from her allowance. She is "allmost eight," she announces, in very precise, penciled block letters. When she was 2 days old, "I had a heart mermer. I went to Children's Hospital . . . I hope [the gift] helps some other little baby."

Jennifer Jones gave $30 in honor of her sister, who "would not be here today if it weren't for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia." Jennifer says she has long been a member of the Been Meaning To Club. Now she's a member of the Did It At Last Club.

Marjea Greene, of Germantown, gave $68--a dollar for every inch of her older daughter's height. It's the 21st time she has given to our campaign via the height formula. Marjea kept the tradition alive even though she has two college tuitions to pay this year.

And Meredith and Eleanor Williams, of Potomac, gave $194. Their gift was far smaller 10 years ago, when their grandson, David Madden, had just had successful heart surgery at Children's. Grandma and Grandpa have been increasing the gift by 10 percent every year, in David's honor.

Do any of these reasons make a bell ring for you? Our mailbox is always open for the kids. Many thanks.

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

In hand as of Jan. 12: $552,331.95.

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.