This summer's first group of campers left for Moss Hollow yesterday morning. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, watched them go.

There are letters already in the mail. They are letters from parents reminding their sons and daughters that they love them and urging them to have fun during their adventure.

But the intended recipients aren't at camp yet. They're still in Northeast Washington, scattered across the gravel parking lot behind Israel Baptist Church, using rolled-up sleeping bags and duffel bags as benches while they wait to board the buses that will shuttle them to Moss Hollow.

You might think the kids are uneasy about leaving home. They don't seem to be.

Twelve-year-old Myles Barham says he's not at all nervous because this is his fourth year attending camp. "I'm cool with the counselors now," he says.

To prove it, he slides over to a counselor in a red T-shirt that says "Staff" on the back and gives him a cheerful high-five.

"He's my buddy," Myles says.

Alex Anderson, 12, is a Moss Hollow newbie, but he has already found a friend in Neil Paige, a veteran counselor whom he met Saturday, when the camp had an open house to get newcomers acquainted with the program.

"He's already got a job when he gets there," Neil says, grinning at Alex. "The first thing he's going to do is make a campfire."

Alex thinks otherwise. "Why can't he do it?" he protests, playfully pushing back Neil's shirtsleeve to reveal a bulky bicep. "Look at that muscle!"

It's muscle that's put to use when the last of the campers arrive -- 50 in all. Counselors grab the duffels and sleeping bags and load the cargo into three buses while the campers wave goodbye and scurry to grab a coveted seat toward the back.

They're in a hurry to go, but they won't be in such a hurry to come back, said Tamara Johnson-Mosley, an 11-year-old attending Moss Hollow for the seventh summer.

In previous years, Tamara confesses, "I cried when it was the last day because we had so much fun we didn't want to leave."

Wanda Smith might be comforted to hear this. She's a little nervous about sending her 8-year-old son, Eugene, away.

"This is our first time apart," she says. "I don't know if I'm going to make it."

But she knows Eugene will be fine. He made a friend while waiting in the parking lot, and the counselors have taken him under their wing.

"At first I was like, 'He's going to be by himself,' but I don't feel that way now," Wanda says, watching as the campers pile into the buses.

And besides, Eugene has mail waiting for him at camp.

Giving Back

Like a lot of suburban families, the Stevenses of Oakton have a pretty busy summer ahead of them.

They're taking a trip out to Colorado. They're visiting Smith Mountain Lake. Ali, 16, Taylor, 14, and Maggie, 10, are attending an assortment of day camps: drama, art, lacrosse, football and basketball. Eldest child Sara, 18, is a counselor at a camp in Reston.

"We all decided what a great few months we have to look forward to," wrote mom Mary Stevens. "We also discussed how fortunate we are to continue to have these great opportunities."

It was during that discussion that Mary and her husband, Dave, asked the kids to think about children who don't have as many chances and choices, kids such as those who attend Camp Moss Hollow. They had seen one of our columns about a young Moss Hollow camper and how his eyes were opened by his experience.

"It pulled at all of our heartstrings," Mary said. "Therefore, we asked our kids to look at their allowance banks and to decide on how much they would like to contribute to Send a Kid to Camp."

Mary and Dave said they would match that amount, dollar for dollar. The result: a $400 check, which will go a long way toward ensuring another child will experience some of the fun that so many other kids take for granted.

We're at precisely the halfway point of this year's campaign for Camp Moss Hollow. I would love to be able to say we've also reached the halfway point monetarily, but unfortunately, we haven't. Our goal by July 27 is $650,000. So far, we've raised $103,856.99.

What can be done? Well, if you're a generous reader with ready access to $200,000 or $300,000, let's talk. If you're a regular wage slave, why not go without Starbucks coffee for a week or two and donate the $20 you'll save?

We hope to send about 800 kids to camp this summer, but we won't be able to if we can't make our goal. Here's how you can make a tax-deductible contribution:

Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237. (Please don't send cash!)

To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."

To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.

Mmmmm, Mozzarella and Blue Cheese

Or why not eat well and do good? Every Wednesday through July 20, certain items on the menus of McCormick & Schmick's Seafood and the M&S Grill benefit Send a Kid to Camp.

Today it's the portobello, mozzarella and tomato bruschetta appetizer at McCormick & Schmick's and the buffalo chicken tenders with crumbled blue cheese dressing appetizer at the M&S Grill.