What a Christmas present! Reading the article about the citizens of Denton, Md. {Style, Dec. 21}, was like receiving a gift. It is wonderful to read that finally a community is reacting to the AIDS crisis with caring and dignity.

So much of the news about AIDS and the ways that communities deal with the epidemic has been disheartening at best. In Arcadia, Fla., a family was burned out of their home because the children had tested positive for the AIDS antibody. They weren't even sick. In Williamson, W. Va., a young man, sick with the disease, was run out of town while the people he'd known all his life scoured the public pool he'd taken a swim in and the local McDonald's assured residents the man hadn't worked there.

This is the sort of behavior we have come to know as America's reaction to AIDS. Our kind and gentle people become torch-wielding animals in the face of AIDS, so great is their fear.

Now a community has had a more humane reaction. Many people are trying to learn more about AIDS and how to respond when it comes near. What Denton has learned is that the only thing worse than AIDS is the response of fear that comes with knowing so little about the disease. It is this fear that reduced the citizens of Williamson and Arcadia to criminal behavior. The citizens of Denton deserve our thanks for their educated, measured response to AIDS. They have set an example that they can be proud of and we all can learn from. NICK MATHWICK Washington