Some fine year, this will stop. But 2002 isn't that year.

"Bob," asked the voice on the phone the other day, "did you get my gift to Children's Hospital? You know, the one with the three $100 bills inside the envelope?"

I searched my memory. I searched my office. But I already knew the bitter truth. This woman's donation had gone where cash gifts so often go -- into the mitts of a thief. That's why I'm a broken record when it comes to helping sick kids. Please do it in one of the ways described below. If you send cash through the mail, it has the strangest way of developing feet.

I have no idea how much we lose each year because trusting souls stuff bills into envelopes and hope for the best. But when you're gunning for a Children's fundraising record, as we are in 2002-03, you need all the help you can get.

Please, cash givers. A little prudence. Thanks.

Caution to cash senders, hooray to contrarians.

Perhaps you caught the front-page piece in the Dec. 23 edition of USA Today about how charitable giving is down at the end of 2002. About how charities of all kinds are suffering, big-time.

My phone rang about 8 that morning. It was Charlotte Wilson, a longtime fan of these jottings.

She told me she'd be making a $100 gift to my annual Children's campaign in a couple of hours "just to show that mean old USA Today that some of us out here still care and aren't afraid to give even when Wall Street is down."

Thank you for being so delightfully stubborn, Charlotte. May your attitude be fruitful and multiply.

She's back. So is what she calls her "unevennesses."

Marion Messenger of Bethesda is a veteran contributor to my annual Children's campaign. But she has never given the same amount twice. That's because the Children's drive serves as a clean-up call for Marion's checking account.

She's a rounder-offer.

Let's say her balance is $374.81. Marion sends a check for $74.81, so her balance can end (for a brief shining moment) in a neat epidemic of zeroes. Marion always chooses Dec. 25 as her benchmark day. This year's gift: $22.37. Thank you, Marion, for helping yourself and needy kids with one stroke of the pen.

Another phone call early on Dec. 23 reminds me that I haven't yet issued my annual receipt bleat.

"I just gave to your Children's campaign," said Mark O'Hara of Upper Marlboro. "I really, really, really need a receipt for my income taxes. My accountant insists."

"Your accountant will insist only if you contributed $250 or more," I explained. "If you gave less than that, you don't need a receipt. And even if you gave more than $250, you won't need to attach a receipt to your tax returns. The receipt will be necessary only if you're audited."

Mark had contributed $100. "You mean my canceled check is all I need?" he asked.

"Unless you gave by credit card. In that case, your credit card statement is all you need," I said.

"You learn something every day," said Mark.

"Amen," said I.

Group givers are stepping up to the plate, as they do so deliciously (and so regularly) each holiday season. The latest stepper-uppers:

Employees, Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, Federal Highway Administration, Sterling ($400).

Sunday school children, First Lutheran Church of Bowie ($82).

National Council of Jewish Women ($50).

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Rockville ($541.50).

Na'amat Club of Leisure World ($100).

The Oldest Traveling Duplicate Bridge Club in the Army ($154, with thanks as always to Rob Rufsvold).

General Secretary's Secretarial Pool, International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, Northwest Washington ($1,060 via a bake sale and a raffle).

Voices of Distinction and Washingtonians Toastmasters, Office of Thrift Supervision, Treasury Department ($25 with special thanks to Tim Toepke).

Arnold Baggins Foundation, New Canaan, Conn. ($2,000).

Le Femmes of Cabane 934 de Virginia ($50).

Richard Montgomery High School Class of 1942 ($498.69 found in the till after this bunch's 60th reunion, with thanks to Hubert L. Carlin).

The 2002-3 Rainbow Kids, Early Childhood Center, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Potomac ($25).

The Magnolias ($100).

The Nimbus Alumni ($255 left after expenses for a 38th reunion).

Employees, Blair Inc., Springfield ($200 in lieu of a gift to the boss, R. Scott Jackson).

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Offices ($1,177 with a special get-well wish to Bob Cullen and a special thank-you to receptionist Elaine Rubin).

Matthew 25 Fund, Catholic Campus Ministry, George Mason University, Fairfax ($447.95 in memory of Jimmy O'Neill, with special thanks to Father Peter Nassetta).

Margaret Veitch Fellowship, Mount Olivet United Methodist Church, Arlington ($25).

Office of Cosmetics and Colors, Division of Programs and Enforcement Policy, Food and Drug Administration ($239, this group's 23rd annual contribution).

Many thanks to one and all.

Our goal by Jan. 24: $1,000,000.

In hand as of Dec. 26: $346,069.68.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to

Children's Hospital and mail it to

Bob Levey's Campaign for Children's,

P.O. Box 75528, Baltimore, Md. 21275-5528.

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.

TO CONTRIBUTE ONLINE:

Go to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital and follow instructions.