You've always known, dear readers, that you'd first learn of the end of the world in this column. It may have arrived--at a Giant Food store in Silver Spring.

One shopper may have stolen a chicken right out of another shopper's cart.

"I am still so livid I can hardly speak," said Lisa Butters, a Levey reader who lives in Northwest Washington and shops at the Blair Plaza Giant on East West Highway.

Lisa was doing her rounds in the store the other night. It was a Monday, which may figure in the story. "I've always noticed that Giant doesn't keep as much stuff on their shelves on Mondays," she said. "They're recovering from the weekend or something."

Lisa selected a Perdue roasting chicken, as she always does. As she fished it out of the meat case, she noticed that it was the last roaster there. "But why would I think twice about that, Bob?" she asked. "They always have more roasters in the back."

Perhaps asking a butcher for such help--and waiting for it--was more than a certain thief could stand.

"I was in the soda aisle. I bent down to grab two bottles of ginger ale. I figure that's when it must have happened," Lisa says. She remembers noticing a woman nearby at the time and thinks she may have purloined the poultry.

Lisa did not even notice the chicken was missing until she got home. She confesses that she didn't watch the checkout clerk process her items. "I was too busy reading one of those hot-stuff papers they have in the checkout lane, you know, the National whatever-they-call it," she said.

Out a chicken, she called the Blair Plaza Giant's manager. He said there was nothing he could do except report a description of the woman to store security. Lisa supplied it. So if a chicken thief is reading this, be aware that you're on Giant's 10 Most Wanted List.

What a world, eh? Have we become so larcenous that Giant Food needs to fit out its chickens with exploding red dye? Do we need to bring an accomplice with us when we stoop for ginger ale, to be sure that nothing in our cart gets heisted?

If indeed this was a theft, I hope the thief choked on a drumstick.

In response to your many inquiries . . .

Yes, we are still collecting grocery receipts in our annual effort to provide computers to a D.C. public school. Both the Giant and Safeway drives run until the end of next month. We are steering all receipts this year to Shaw Junior High School in Northwest Washington. Crews there are busily counting, sorting and bundling receipts, which will be redeemed for computers and related equipment.

If you shop at Safeway, please do not send receipts to me. Safeway's program operates differently this year. To apply the value of your purchases to Shaw, you must register with a manager at any Safeway store, and you must use your Safeway frequent-shopper card. You'll also need Shaw's Safeway code number. It's 0222.

If you shop at Giant, please mail receipts to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071. You don't need to send the entire slip. The piece at the bottom, below the dotted line, is plenty.

I realize that many of you prefer to save, save, save your receipts and mail them to me all at once, near the deadline. That's great--but it would be greater if you'd mail them a batch at a time, starting now. This makes counting and bundling smoother.

Many thanks for your help. We're aiming for more than $8 million in receipts this year. We can reach that lofty height with your help.

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

It's nearly eight years since she was treated at Children's for brachial plexus palsy, and the experience is pure history. "Jeanne Marie is now a healthy 8-year-old who shows few lingering effects" of the ailment, writes her mother, Colleen O'Neill Yanchulis, of Upper Marlboro.

Colleen had contributed to our annual fund-raising campaign before her daughter's birth in 1991. She has redoubled her enthusiasm (and her checks) in the years since, in gratitude.

But this year, the key donor from the household was Jeanne Marie herself.

She found a $20 bill "blowing through the parking lot" of a restaurant, Colleen says. Since it was impossible to find the owner, the family took the bill home "until we could figure out what to do with it."

Levey to the rescue. Colleen read one of my many Children's columns in early December. "It dawned on me that Children's was the right place to send it."

So chalk up $40 for our cause--the $20 that Jeanne Marie found and a matching $20 from her parents. Good job, Yanchulises. This is how records get set.

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

In hand as of Jan. 17: $574,054.34.

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.