THE HUNDREDS of depositors of the bankrupt Latin Investment Corp. -- mostly Salvadoran immigrants -- should not be left to fend for themselves. They practiced the middle-class virtues others so often preach -- self-help, thrift, sacrifice, delayed gratification. Their pursuit of the American dream, however, led them to a financial nightmare. More than the fate of their $6 million to $13 million in deposits is at stake. Their life savings were placed with Latin Investment, because they took so much else on trust. "They didn't know how to read or write, so the teller filled out all their paperwork. They trusted the tellers," one Latin Investment employee told The Post. They also trusted Latin Investment's president, Fernando Leonzo, a countryman who rose from a dishwasher with $150 in his pocket in 1969 to successful president of LIC and owner of the area's largest Spanish-language newspaper. And they trusted the institutions of this city. "In El Salvador, I would have expected something like this. But not here, not in the United States," said a depositor.

Some say nothing can be done about this outrage. We say there is always something that can be done. For starters, a maximum effort should be made to recover as much of their savings as possible from the Latin Investment Corp. and its directors. An initial step toward that end was taken Friday with the U.S. Trustee's appointment of Murray Drabkin to serve as a trustee for Latin Investment. At this stage, Mr. Drabkin, a partner and noted bankruptcy expert with the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, doesn't know how much value will be realized from liquidation of the company's assets. But to maximize the depositor's cash recovery, he and his firm have agreed to forgo the customary fee and render their services on a pro bono basis.

The task of pursuing depositors' claims against the various holdings of Latin Investment, however, is a massive undertaking. Mr. Drabkin will need the help of knowledgeable volunteers -- especially lawyers and accountants -- who are willing to devote the time and effort to finding and reducing Latin Investment interests to money for the depositors. We strongly urge members of the business community and bar association to offer their aid.

We hope to call attention to similar opportunities for concerned citizens in this region to help salvage the hopes of the victimized depositors. Pitching in is a way to help redeem a promise that is implicit and fundamental in this country: hard work pays off.