Giant and Safeway once again are running campaigns to provide local schools with computers in exchange for accumulated cash register receipts. The grocery chains are to be commended for their commitment to education.

But their programs do have a regrettable aspect. The children and schools most in need of the additional resource and educational boost of computers -- those in low-income neighborhoods in the District -- are the least likely to benefit.


First, poor families have considerably less to spend on food than more affluent households. Equally significant is a phenomenon characteristic of major cities throughout this country -- the District's downtown has few chain grocery stores and the poorer sections of the city have almost none.

As a result, many D.C. families have far less access than their suburban neighbors to the wider selection of products and better prices large stores offer. Now these families also stand to miss out on a chance to improve the educational resources available to their youngsters. Even the most diligent efforts of inner-city children, parents and school staff to collect receipts are likely to yield limited returns.

Last year, Giant Foods rejected an appeal to make adjustments in the program that would have made it easier for District students (as well as those in disadvantaged areas of suburban Maryland and Virginia) to benefit. Perhaps in the coming months, it will reconsider such changes.

In the meantime, individuals, businesses, civic organizations, churches, synagogues and community groups can help by donating their receipts to D.C. schools in low-income neighborhoods. Joining in partnership with the children and parents in these schools can ensure that youngsters who otherwise would have no chance to use a computer at school -- let alone at home -- get that chance. Perhaps as important, these children will have a tangible demonstration that people care about their future.

During the last campaign, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the American Public Welfare Association, Deloitte and Touche, Vienna Presbyterian Church and a number of concerned individuals helped the J. Hayden Johnson Junior High School and Paul Junior High School, both in the District, obtain computers, printers and software.

Wrote Principal Kenneth Whitted and Assistant Principal George Smitherman of Johnson Junior High, "The majority of our students are considered economically deprived ... We are often overlooked by interested citizens and organizations. ... Our hearts are filled with joy and thanks. ... We could not have made this goal without you. In years to come, you will be remembered as contributors to our school because you cared enough to help us. May God bless all of you."

The distance between schools in the suburbs and many downtown is farther than a few miles -- not because of a difference in the aspirations parents have for their children or in the desire to succeed that children themselves have, but because of substantial differences in the quality of school facilities and equipment. Here's an excellent and easy chance to bridge that distance.

-- Janet E. Levy