Why do people give to charity? Why don't they just keep all their money for themselves?

It's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately, charged as I am with raising money for Send a Kid to Camp. Washington Post readers have been incredibly generous these last eight weeks, contributing $417,159.35 to help at-risk kids spend a week at Camp Moss Hollow.

The money has come from all sorts of people, from kids who love camp to grandparents who never had a chance to go, from wealthy folks who feel blessed that they can contribute, to poor folks who want to do what they can, no matter how modest their gift might be.

Our campaign nears its end well shy of its $750,000 goal. But we're not throwing in the towel yet. You can still give. We'll continue to accept donations well into next week, and we'll announce the grand total Thursday.

And a Child Shall Lead Them

Buried on a back page of the 1907 annual report of the charity that now runs Camp Moss Hollow is an entry labeled "Lawn Fetes, Excursions, Entertainment, Etc." This balance sheet lists contributions from people who had held fundraising parties or put on shows.

Accompanying the list of donors is this notation: "Entertainment by six little girls: Janet Little, Doris Little, Helen Adams, Ruth Patterson, Louise Steinberg and Florence Evart." The girls had evidently put on a play for friends and neighbors, raising $11.34, which they donated to the summer camping program.

I was reminded of this when I received a letter from six of today's little girls: Elizabeth Johnson, Haley Sadler, Linh Nguyen, Jackie Polis, MaryAnne Daymont and Bianca Feierstein. They're members of Girl Scout Troop 4507 in Springfield and had sent $60 they'd raised selling cookies. "We all hope that other children can have as much fun camping as we do," they wrote.

Allison Hamrock, an 8-year-old from Crofton, donated $5 that she earned by receiving a good report card. Andrew Brailey, aVienna fourth-grader, won a $100 young historian award at Wolf Trap Elementary School.

"I don't need all that money," Andrew wrote me, "so I decided to give ten dollars to Send a Kid to Camp."

What would possess a kid to do that?

My Mother Speaks

My mother grew up poor in Washington, one of eight brothers and sisters living in a Brookland rowhouse. I -- a solidly middle-class child of the suburbs -- found this fact vaguely exotic.

Mom didn't go to Camp Good Will, the precursor to Camp Moss Hollow, but she did go to a summer camp for poor kids. It was run by the Christ Child Society. She went almost every year, then became a counselor, teaching archery.

What she remembers most was the ease with which everyone was fed at camp. It wasn't that her family was so poor that she went hungry at home. It was that in a tiny house with eight kids, any meal was a touch-and-go kind of thing, a welter of competing interests. At camp, it was a different story -- the food seemed to magically appear.

At Moss Hollow, the dining hall is a lovely octagonal wooden building, its interior walls shiny with varnish. Last Friday, the boys of the Deerhorn cabins were "hopping." That means it was their turn to set the tables, bring out the food and clean the hall when lunch was over.

As campers waited behind their chairs, ready to say grace, Hope Asterilla, program director of youth development, told them she didn't want to see everybody jumping into their seats before the final "Amen" had escaped their lips.

Which is what happened. So Hope got them back on their feet to sing the grace again. This time there was a respectful pause before the campers eased themselves into their chairs and tucked into a meal of mini-pizzas, green salad, macaroni salad and cottage fries.

After lunch, Hope raised a hand and made a peace sign, the signal that it was time to quiet down. "We made it through another session," she said. "We made it, and that's a milestone. You learned a lot. You grew a lot."

Why do people give? They give because their religious views hold that they should. They give because they feel they owe something to their community. They give because even though they may not have a lot, they know they have more than some. They give because it's tax deductible.

They give because they are blessed with the gift of empathy. Because they can close their eyes and imagine the good that their contribution will do. Because they know that parting with a few hard-earned dollars helps others more than it hurts them.

They give because they're asked.

Can we reach our $750,000 goal? I don't know. I know that we've tried our hardest and that we've already improved the lives of a lot of kids this summer. If you'd like to make a contribution, here's how:

Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention, Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.

To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."

To contribute by phone with Visa or MasterCard, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.

Thanks to a recent invention known as the World Wide Web, you may communicate with me today at 1 p.m. Simply "point" your computer's "Web browser" to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.