There was a strawberry-picking contest in an Accokeek orchard, a white elephant sale at the Rosecroft Raceway and benefits up and down the East Coast by a country music band that passed around a beer bottle with little Candi Thomas' picture on the front.

They were all part of a massive fund-raising effort that drew donations of $76,000 for the 16-month-old Accokeek girl, who Wednesday underwent the expensive liver transplant operation that doctors hope will save her life.

Though the operation came about with surprising swiftness, four days after President Reagan made a personal appeal on the radio for a donor, the effort to finance the surgery and the long hospital recovery stay began nearly a year ago. Candi's parents had known since she was 3 months old that she needed the operation.

The event that raised the most money was a Candi Thomas Day, held last June at Rosecroft Raceway, in Oxon Hill, where about 2,500 people paid $2.50 to shop at white elephant stands and food concessions. That sale alone raised about $11,000, and dozens of other events, including a bake sale held by Charles County school bus drivers and a sale of 14,000 cloth roses by Central Avenue Florist, in Waldorf, did the rest.

Several months ago, the Blue Ridge Boys, a country music band, was performing at the Round Up Club in Waldorf and noticed a jar on the bar for donations to help Candi. The band adopted the cause and since then had held numerous benefits for her. The group even dedicated its recent release, "One More Chance," to Candi in a performance at the Round Up.

"People were crying and just lining up in these long lines to drop change, bills and checks into the jar," said barmaid Marie Fisher. "It really was a tear-jerker."

J. C. Richards, owner of The Round Up Club, first heard of Candi when he bought his Christmas tree at a lot set up to benefit Candi. Richards placed the donation jar on his bar and began fundraising, holding pie-eating contests and selling T-shirts that read, "I helped give Candi one more chance."

Candi, though so weak she can't walk or talk, has attended almost all of the major fund-raisers in the area, according to Hilton Conley, treasurer of the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department, which has coordinated the fund-raising efforts.

"She'd smile and laugh and just melt your heart down to your socks," Conley said of the blond-haired, blue-eyed baby. "But she'd get hold of your finger," recalled Conley, "and the grip just wouldn't be as strong as it should be."