We're there.

They're going.

It's late Friday afternoon as I write this, and I've just finished adding up a drawerful of checks. The total: $11,620.50.

Add to that the $3,500 that members of the Eastern High School bands raised for themselves. Then sprinkle lightly with the $3,200 donated directly to the school, and voila!

That's a grand total of $18,320.50. The 85 members of the bands needed $17,510. In short, they have more than enough.

Next stop: the Central Florida Fair Festival in Orlando, where Eastern's stage band, marching band and concert band will strut their collective stuff at a get-together early next month of high school bands from all over the East Coast.

It says a great deal about this community that the response to Eastern's hour of need has been so swift and so generous. Checks have arrived from all over the area, from all sorts of people. I must have heard from everyone who ever scored a touchdown for or against Eastern, not to mention everyone who ever put lips to a clarinet or trumpet there.

But the most notable gift came from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

I wrote about the President's $250 check the other day, in part to thank him, in part to suggest that if a relatively new Washingtonian like Ronald Reagan can give, so can those of us who've been around for a while. Having achieved both purposes, I thought no more about it.

Until the phone rang last Wednesday at about 5:15 p.m.

"Mr. LEV-ee?"

"It's LEE-vee," I grumped. Just what I needed late in the afternoon, when the drowsies were starting.

"Oh, is that how you're pronouncing it?" said the voice, which was female and high-pitched.

"Yes, always has been," I replied, more grumpily.

"Oh," said the voice. "Fine. Please hold on for the President of the United States."

Well, that woke me out of the drowsies in world-record time. Five seconds later, the President was on the line.

"Hi. Hey, I didn't send you that check because I wanted publicity," he said. "I just wanted to help the kids."

"Sir," I said. "You have. I'm very grateful, and so are all the people at Eastern."

"You know," the President said. "I hate to see kids fail. Especially kids, who have everything to live for. I've sent your column all around the White House, and if you'd like to refer to what we've done in any further solicitation, that'll be fine."

"Sir," I said. "I appreciate your doing that. I only hope we won't need to solicit any more. I just hope the kids can make the trip."

"So do I," said the President.

And now they will.

As so many of you have said in letters accompanying your checks, this won't be some joyride made up of feasts at McDonald's and side trips to Disney World. When a teenager travels, he rehearses for the independence of adulthood. It's especially important to give "rehearsal time" to an inner-city kid who's never been outside the Beltway.

And a team activity like a band contest teaches lasting lessons. What better way to learn the value of practice, cooperation and perseverance?

But there wouldn't have been a Florida trip without the generosity of you readers. You're terrific.

I'll be in the Eastern parking lot on March 3 when the buses rev up to head south. I plan to wave. I plan to cheer. I plan to wish band director Bob Sands and his musicians all the luck in the world.

But if anybody thanks me, I'm going to tell him to bite his tongue. All I do is type. The people to thank are a President who understands a few things about kids -- and several hundred readers who do, too.