AS YOUR mail surely indicates these days, there are many avenues for generosity in this community, and when people learn how and whom they might help in this season, they tend to respond in heartwarming numbers. And while we believe that decisions about giving are individual matters, sometimes people are unware of special circumstances that cry out for extra attention and support. So it is this year with Greater Washington's grand umbrella of donations to youngsters -- the Toys for Tots holiday campaign conducted by the Marine Corps Reserve, which is the only such drive in the region. A report earlier this week showed donations of toys were down 96 percent compared with last year -- which, if not turned around dramatically, would mean that many children here might receive no toys at all.

According to Sgt. Anthony Smalls, this year's campaign chairman, the drive may have to make some unprecedented and highly unpleasant decisions to cut the list of 127 groups that have requested a total of 85,000 toys. Officials can only speculate as to the reasons for this troubling shortfall -- suggesting that some of it may be effects of the economic downtown and the competing public interest this year in sending packages to military personnel in Saudi Arabia. But consider the reaction of Fred Snowdon, pastor for education at the National Christian Church in Fort Washington, which in the past has received 2,000 toys from the Marines for distribution: "for many of our church children and those in the community we serve, that one toy would be the only gift they receive. These are ghetto children. We can't forget them just because there is a more flamboyant need. Those children were in the ghetto in 1985, in 1986 and so on. Their needs never go away."

Will the drive fail? We don't think so. We prefer to believe that once the disturbing word gets out, people all around town will buy the toys for the campaign. And when they do, there are many places to drop them off. For Redskin game-goers today at the stadium, the entire staffs of Toys for Tots will be on hand as receivers. On weekdays until 2 p.m. Dec. 18, toys may be left in the lobby of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW (along with canned foods, if you wish, for distribution by Bread for the City). For other places around the area, donors may call Sgt. Smalls at 202-433-3612.