Over the top!

Our 1999-2000 fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital has stormed far past its lofty goal and set a record. Would anyone care to pinch my fat cheeks? I'm still not sure that I believe it.

The final, wondrous accounting:

Our goal: $650,000.

Our grand total: $709,179.31.

That's by far the best this campaign has ever done in the 51 years it has been running in The Washington Post.

It's the first time we've cracked the $700,000 barrier. It's nearly $91,000 better than the previous one-year record of $618,594.07, set in 1997-98. It's nearly $111,000 better than last year's final total of $598,212.70. It's nearly a quarter of a million dollars better than our low-water mark for the 1990s--$485,996.41 in 1991-92.

Please don't ask me why we did so well. If I knew for sure, I'd be the greatest fund-raiser on the planet, and no charity would ever have to do without. All I can tell you is what I think this year's outburst of dollars means.

It means that the Children's campaign has captured hearts.

For that, I am very grateful--and very gratified. It proves my pet theory yet again: A community that supposedly sits on its wallets and supposedly won't stoop to help really cares an awful lot.

Just a few days ago, I wasn't sure we'd reach the mountaintop. But over the last 72 hours of our drive, I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn on my way to work and wandered into the U.S. Mint instead.

You readers contributed nearly $100,000 in the final three days. So much for my fretting about how the biggest gifts had already landed on my doorstep. You were just saving the best for last.

To all who made donations, heaps of thanks. To Lynn Ryzewicz and Gerri Marmer, thanks for your excellent help. To the gang at Children's--doctors, nurses, patients, administrators, staff--you're the best.

Do I dare share my secret dream with you?

I dare.

One of these days, Bob Levey is going to write a column that says we've had a $1 million year for Children's Hospital. Years like the one we've just had make me think such thoughts. People like you make such thoughts become reality.

Until 2000-2001 . . .

The final batch of under-the-wire group givers:

The End of the Rainbow Gang ($50).

The Bridgeless Group ($110).

Office of Language Services, Department of State ($1,010, which is nice in any language--thanks for weighing in for a 27th year in a row).

Montgomery County Federation of Teachers ($50 in memory of Cliff Fries).

Patricia B. Carlson's and Cathy Mix's seventh-graders, Swanson Middle School, Arlington ($30.91 from Patricia's gang, $92.75 from Cathy's, as part of a unit on the industrialization of America).

Logicon Information Systems & Services, Arlington ($125).

How the Weather Works Co. ($50).

Staff, students and parents, Hyde Elementary School, Northwest Washington ($175, with special thanks to Mary Ann Gaudette).

Middle School teachers and students, Sidwell Friends School ($195.56).

Employees, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, Northwest Washington ($1,653.66 via change collections, "photo ops" with Santa and matching funds from the firm. Special thanks as always to Vicky Wolf).

Central Office Staff, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs ($105, plus about another $125 in coins, with special thanks to those twin towers of tub-thumping, Bill Landau and Dorothy Mackay).

Laura O'Kelly and the Thistle Streetband ($200 collected from the audience while doing a concert at the Renaissance Music & Emporium, Warrenton).

Herrlein Corporation, Arlington ($100).

Third grade, Lake Seneca Elementary School, Germantown ($101.55).

The Bonn Family Revocable Living Trust ($10).

"Some of the crew," ITrecruiting.com ($100).

Students, teachers and staff, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, Beltsville ($800).

Team DC ($30 from this crew of local bicyclists).

The Colburn Family Foundation ($10,000).

Faculty and staff, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University ($345).

Children of Drewlaine Drive, Vienna ($32.51).

Employees and friends of the Douglas-Michaels Office Football Pool, Springfield ($911.85 by raking off 20 percent of each week's pot for the kids).

Students, parents and staff, Fox Chapel Elementary School, Germantown (an excellent $2,400, with special thanks to the one and only Chuck Williams).

Employees, Office of the Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Customs Service, Dulles International Airport ($85 in lieu of sending Christmas cards).

St. Mary's Bowling League ($50 in honor of Ethan Grene).

Rydex, Rockville ($80 via a "Ding a Dollar" system of fines for those who showed up late for meetings. Special thanks to old buddy Lisa Ealley).

'98-'99 Tiger Cubs, Seneca Academy, Darnestown ($35).

The Federal City Four ($50).

Student Council, Woodlin Elementary School, Silver Spring ($305).

United Airlines Dulles Mechanics ($1,451, not the mere $40 I accused them of sending in a column last week--very sorry, guys).

Trustees, Tastee Diner Club, Bethesda ($20).

Legislative Reference Division, Office of Management and Budget ($100).

Employees, National Automobile Dealers Association, McLean ($2,000 from employees, matched by the association).

Member Records Section, Finance and Administration Department, American Society for Industrial Security, Alexandria ($120).

Joe Wasson Chapter, Naval Enlisted Reserve Association ($100).

Planning and Evaluation staff, Department of Veterans Affairs ($50).

Kingsview Supermarket Branch, Chevy Chase Bank ($25).

Ladies' Cocktail League (Chapter 01) ($100).

Staff and faculty, Baldwin Elementary School, Manassas ($82).

Off I go, into the wild blue yonder, for the rest of this week. Stay well and don't let the bedbugs bite. I'll be back at my usual perch on the comics pages next Monday, Jan. 31.