So near, and yet so far . . . .

It's Saturday afternoon as I write this. The postman isn't going to pay me another visit between now and Monday. That means that I have gotten all the checks from you readers that I'm going to get before the first campers head off to the woods of Virginia at about 9 o'clock Monday morning.

The adding machine tape that I've just finished punching out is quite encouraging in one way: $113,318.38 is in hand.

But the cold truth is extremely discouraging: We are short by $10,681.62. If we can't raise that money, and raise it soon, nearly 100 underprivileged kids from our community, who have been counting on going to camp since about Washington's Birthday, are going to stay home.

The generosity that you readers have shown to get us within striking distance of our goal has been marvelous. Day after day, I've trundled downstairs to the mailroom, knowing that as soon as I got off the elevator and looked to my right, the cubby hole marked "Bob Levey" would be nearly full of envelopes. And day after day, it has been.

But I'm afraid it hasn't been enough.

We have finished this year's six-week-long campaign about five percent ahead of last year's final total, for which I'm extremely grateful. But the cost of sending a kid to camp has gone up almost 10 percent. As a result, we still find ourselves considerably short of the $124,000 target we established in May.

Now, I suppose we could sit back and say we've done what we could. We could ease our disappointment by telling ourselves that times are tough, that extra funds don't grow on trees, that we've got to take care of our own families before we can think about helping someone else's.

But I don't look at it that way, and I hope you won't, either. We have done what we could, but we have to do more. We certainly have to take care of our own families, but we can also help the families of others.

Here are a few ways:

Do you buy five bucks worth of lottery tickets every Monday? Why not contribute that money instead to 1,228 kids? They won't get a chance to swim, canoe, hike and slap mosquitoes if you don't.

Do you treat yourself to a fancy lunch once a week? Why not burger it on "fancy day" this week, and send what you would have spent to help kids in our community who need it?

Do you like to go to the movies? Tickets cost $5 apiece at a lot of theaters these days. Why not put off the Jedi's Return until next week, and help the kids this week? The movie will still be there when you want to see it. But camp for our kids won't be without your help.

If you missed our earlier appeals, let me summarize again what we are trying to do, and for whom:

A social welfare agency called Family and Child Services runs three camps within 90 minutes drive of Washington. Each summer since the 1940s, kids of both sexes have spent two weeks apiece at one of them. For more than three decades, The Washington Star raised funds for the campers. Since the Star's death in 1981, The Washington Post and Bob Levey's Washington have continued the campaign.

The kids who go to Camp Goodwill, Camp Pleasant and Camp Moss Hollow are underprivileged in a financial sense. But many are underprivileged culturally, too. As urban kids, many of them living in housing projects and neighborhoods that have seen better days, they probably have never seen what country life is all about. Therefore, they've never brought back to the city that special feeling of serenity that the country --and camp--can foster.

Won't you help 100 dozen kids experience that feeling this summer? If we raise the money we need by the end of this week, I'm told that no child will have to be disappointed. But this Friday night is the end of the road. The money has to be in hand by then. I'm counting on you to see that it is--and so are a bunch of kids who represent a good chunk of our community's future.

To contribute to the campaign:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW., Washington, D.C., 20071.