Though it may come as a shock to many District Liners to learn that Bill is turning over the Children's Hospital fund drive to me this year, we both hope that the prospect of having two columns on this page will be of some comfort to his longtime loyalists.

The hospital campaign has become imbued with the Gold spirit over the past three decades. I promise that I will not change its character.

I will take care of the day-to-day correspondence and the writing that the fund campaign generates. Bill will devote himself to the District Line. But he'll be looking right over my shoulder, and the campaign will remain as important to him as it ever was.

Old-time District Liners know why it is esstntial to contribute to Children's Hospital. If you are a newcomer to our area, let me explain what we do and why we do it.

Children's is known as "the hospital with the built-in deficit." Since the Civil War ear, it has been dedicated to the service of needy children of every race and creed.

That was a very modern concept for those days, and the hospital has since maintained a similar modernity in staff and equipment.

The health of the patient comes first at Children's. True, a diligent effort is made to collect the cost of treatment, either from parents who have the means to pay or from insurance assignments or other "third party" sources. However, no child is ever turned away from Children's Hospital because its parents cannot pay the bill. Wealthy parents bring their children here from hundreds of miles away because there is no finer pediatric facility in the country. But the same superb care is available to the poor because Children's Hospital isn't afraid to incur an operating deficit each year. It knows that you and I will fill its shoebox at Christmas time.

Each year, the community responds generously. The hospital's mission of mercy then begins another annual cycle of deficit spending as it continues to provide medical care for those who can't pay.

Children's Hospital spent well over $1 million to help needy children last year. District Liners chipped in $223,000 of this account, and the remainder was sent directly to the hospital by other donors.

One of the most productive methods for raising money was proposed many years ago. Someone, somewhere, in a flash of inspiration, suggested that instead of individual exchanges of greeting cards among workers in the same office, colleagues could exchange holiday greetings in person -- and that the money saved on cards and postage could be diverted to a worthy cause. And that could be more worthy than providing medical help for needy children?

The idea met with ready acceptance and was quickly adopted all over town. Large organizations such as the Army, the Navy, and Mother Bell's children began to raise significant sums. Other government agencies and private employers joined forces with the innovators, with similar results. Political, religious, and social groups from one end of town to the other were able to increase their charitable contributions without actually adding to the cost borne by separate donors, who pinched pennies on cards and sent the money to the children.

Of course, there are many other ways to raise funds, and hospitalized children aren't too particular about how their friends are raising the dough. Some offices will send in the cash remaining after the Christmas bash is all paid off. Excess or dormant funds in club coffers find their way to Children's each year. Some hardy souls even organize backyard bazaars or bake sales to help defray the hospital's expenses. And for cold-weather fans, a few evenings spent singing Christmas carols for the kids can bring in unbelievable amounts.

Many more ideas will be reported in this space. The column's role in all this is simply to tell readers which groups participated, how much they contributed, and how they raised the money.

No individual givers are ever named, but every group gift routed to Children's Hospital through me is acknowledged here, regardless of the amount. Each day I will chronicle the gifts that arrive, giving the readers a breakdown on the number of personal donations and naming the organizations. The total from the groups is then added to the total from individuals, and that daily total is added to the money already in the famous shoebox. Each day, readers know just where the drive stands.

So I inherit the shoebox and Bill's cordless abacus and the job of getting you to the mailbox, check in hand, for the love of children. Bill and I are hoping for another record-breaking year, and so are Children's Hospital and its patients. Everything the hospital buys and everybody it hires costs more this year than last. If you aren't at least 12 percent more generous than you were last year, we're going to be in deep trouble.