Close but no cigar? Or all the way there? I won't know until the last checks are counted. By the time the sun sets today, those checks will have been -- and our 2002-03 Children's Hospital fundraising campaign will be history.

Record-breaking history? Dance-a-jig history? We've been heading that way since we began this drive in early December. As the last lap arrives, all I can do is cross my fingers.

And say thanks.

To those who have already contributed, more than 12,000 of you: Take a bow. You have reached out and helped children who needed it. You have shown that there really is a sense of caring in this sometimes cold city. You are the best.

Thanks, too, to those who will contribute at the last minute -- otherwise known as right now.

Perhaps your bank balance is in better shape now that Christmas is a month past. Perhaps you've gotten -- or you expect -- a tax refund. Perhaps you won a lawsuit or a lottery. Whatever the reason, we welcome a last-minute gift via credit card or computer. Details appear at the bottom of today's column.

Special thanks go to our regulars. About 20 percent of our donors give each year, and they didn't miss a chance in 2002-03. You are the backbone of this effort, gang. There's a special place upstairs for all of you.

Back to counting beans, kneading worry beads and fashioning Monday's column, in which I'll report the final results. Regardless of our grand total, we have already had a very, very good campaign. But that $1 million figure sits there, daring us to reach it. This may be the year.

A note to all who've called and written, seeking receipts for their Children's donations:

If you gave $250 or more to this drive, or to the 2002 piece of the 2001-02 drive, you'll automatically receive a receipt for your gift, as tax laws require. Otherwise, you won't, because you won't need one. Your canceled check is sufficient to endure anything the IRS might throw at you.

Ah, but what if your bank no longer provides canceled checks?

In that case, we'll make an exception. Contact me at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or via and we'll get the "receipt thing" done. Thanks.

A host of groups weighed in with gifts at the last minute. The honor roll:

King George County Woman's Club, Ninde, Va. (a bounteous collection of foreign money).

The Monday Group, Ashburn ($1,240 by forgoing a gift exchange).

Humanities and Social Sciences Division, Library of Congress ($500).

Miss Lisa and the Christina Heimlich Dancers, School of International Dance, Falls Church ($575).

St. Luke No. 2 Bowling Team ($50).

"Happy Faces" class, Rabbi Joseph Weinberg Early Childhood center, Washington Hebrew Congregation ($70).

JoAnn's Aerobics ($400).

Staff, the Child Center and Adult Services Inc., Gaithersburg ($175 with special thanks to Carol Juran).

Office of Safety, Federal Railroad Administration ($277).

Ladies' Auxiliary, Knights of St. John ($100).

Employees, Management Analysis Inc., Vienna ($1,283, up more than 50 percent from a year ago).

Mrs. Bates's, Mrs. Chambers's, Mrs. Doerr's and Mr. Fennell's third grades, Alexander Henderson Elementary School, Montclair, Va. ($278 from students and teachers).

Headquarters employees, Criminal Investigation, Internal Revenue Service ($90 from a holiday party).

Six legal secretaries, CDR Section, Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin and Oshinsky, Northwest Washington ($135 in lieu of exchanging gifts).

Jackson Road Elementary School, Silver Spring ($156.50).

McLean Duplicate Bridge Group ($100).

Grand Home Furnishings, Winchester, Va. ($139 from the wishing well).

Bicol Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Inc. ($200).

Terra Centre Special Education Team ($65 in honor of the office staff).

Mrs. Harper's Panther Pause Class, Thomas W. Pyle Middle School, Bethesda ($80).

The Rat Pack ($100).

Bleichner Art Studio ($275 in lieu of gifts for the art teacher).

McLean Post 270, American Legion ($200).

Potomac Hills Women's Club ($350).

St. Jane's Post Cana ($50).

Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Counterintelligence, State Department ($200).

Medical Detachment, D.C. Army National Guard ($100).

Compliance Division Coffee Club, USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration ($114.58, marking this group's 24th consecutive contribution).

Temple Beth Ami, Rockville ($1,000).

Office of Language Services, Department of State ($640, which marks the 30th year in a row that this bunch has been heard from).

Verizon Data Security Group, Silver Spring ($650, matched by the company).

ASAP Softball Team ($180 left after postgame pizza and beer were paid for and the waitress was tipped, with special thanks to manager Neil Greenberger and all the guys who once put up with Yours Truly as a teammate).

Nautilus Communications, Inc. ($100).

Oakcrest Towers Funsters Senior Citizens Club, Annapolis ($50).

Employees, Directorate for Policy Support, Defense Intelligence Agency ($1,600 via an "attic auction" at a holiday party).

OIRM and friends, Government Printing Office ($816.10, with special thanks to Christine Howlett).

Students, staff and parents, Fox Chapel Elementary School, Germantown ($1,495).

The "Original" Braemar Bunco Group ($60).

Ballston Duplicate Bridge Club ($68 donated at a club championship).

Children's Nutcracker on Ice ($1,152.05 via this benefit ice skating show, with special thanks to Canlan Ice Sports of Manassas and to organizer Rebecca L. Boyden).

Employees, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ($1,020 instead of exchanging Christmas cards).

The Keaney and Ortiz families of Mockingbird Drive, Annandale ($545, and thanks for getting behind this for the 18th year in a row).

Thanks so much.

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

In hand as of Jan. 22: $791,153.08.



Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a

touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S,

or 5437, and follow instructions.


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