Like "A Longtime Fan and Reader," Levey is an early riser. Longtime Fan says he usually shakes off the covers at 6 a.m. during the week. The Levey boy is usually up far sooner.

So when we paragons of virtue get a rare day off, we like to sleep in. Alas, Purple Heart has other ideas.

Longtime Fan says he was blissfully sacked out on Dec. 24, about 7:45 a.m., when the phone rang. LTF assumed the worst. "Who else would call at that hour but a relative in distress?" he writes.

Wrong. It was a solicitor for Purple Heart, the well-known agency that recycles furniture and other goods for the benefit of the community.

The solicitor asked if Longtime Fan had anything to leave outside his home on the next regularly scheduled pickup day in that neighborhood.

LTF says he kept his cool. Three questions popped into his sleep-addled head. He asked them all, calmly and one at a time.

1) Was the solicitor aware of the hour? "Yes," she said.

2) Is it Purple Heart policy to call so early on a semi-national holiday? The woman mumbled, stumbled, bumbled and gave no real response, LTF says.

3) Could the wake-up victim please speak to a supervisor so his name could be placed on a don't-call-before-9-a.m. list? The woman said she'd have to call back later. Then she hung up. Of course, no return call has happened.

"You may rest assured that Purple Heart is now forever on my list of non-charitable charities," LTF said. He urged "a few strategically placed calls from a well-known newspaper columnist" to "light a fire under Purple Heart."

Richard Gallant, the executive director of Purple Heart, said the organization's policy is to place solicitation calls only between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. "We'd like to say that we're very sorry," Richard told researcher Lynn Ryzewicz. "We greatly appreciate people who support us." People like LTF are "the heart and soul of all of what we do," Richard said.

Richard said he has gotten beefs from others about Purple Heart solicitors and the time of day they call. In every case, Richard does "all I can" to place complainers on a don't-call-before-a-certain-hour list, he said. People resent being solicited just as much at dinner time as early in the morning, Richard observed.

I always hate to see deserving charities shoot themselves in the foot, but that's the inescapable bottom line on this tale. Perhaps Richard and others at Purple Heart had better graduate from all they can, to all they must.

From Veazey Terrace NW (and from a reader who asks to remain anonymous) comes this cutie. The reader says her sister in Ohio sent it to her.

If, on the first Christmas, the three wise men had been women, they would have . . .

* Asked for directions.

* Arrived on time.

* Cleaned the stable.

* Helped deliver the baby.

* Made a casserole and . . .

* Brought practical gifts.

It's a word that deserves to be in the language. Carole Lyons, of Arlington, passed it along. It was the brainstorm of her sister, Georgene Gallo, of Pittsburgh.

Georgene was wishing Carole a happy end-of-1999. "Happy Millendium," she wrote.

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

If you're looking for a last-minute reason to make a last-minute donation to our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital, let Walter Michael Pirner help you.

Walter says he has loyally bought Christmas gifts for his mother, Hedy A. Pirner, all 42 years of his life. But Mom never needs anything or wants anything, he says.

Even so, Walter has continued to buy the usual run of "glass trays, home decor prints, last-minute desperation gifts," he writes. Neither giver nor getter has leapt for joy.

This year might be a bit different. Walter donated $50 to our campaign, in his mother's honor. "The smile and hug I got were the best gifts I ever got for Christmas," he says.

How about it, sons and daughters? The ugly-sweater makers of America won't like losing the business. But isn't a gift to the needy patients at Children's far more significant?

Our 1999-2000 drive has just three days to go. If there's a birthday in your family coming up on 1/19, 1/20 or 1/21, why not go the Walter route? We'll happily acknowledge your gift to Mom or Dad. Thanks very much.

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

In hand as of Jan. 15: $577,345.67.

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.