MOST OF these babies have never known the reassuring warmth of a mother's hug, or experienced the gentleness of a grandmother's kiss. They've never seen a tree. Or touched green grass or even breathed fresh air. Christmas Day finds them in area hospitals -- at Howard, Sibley, the Washington Hospital Center, Providence, Greater Southeast Community and Alexandria. They are ready to go home, medically fit for discharge; the problem is these babies have no place to go.

For these boarder babies, as they are called, the hospital ward is home because there is little else. Abandoned by their mothers, many of whom are drug-addicted and some practically children themselves, these infants must spend the first months of their lives in hospital cribs waiting to be adopted or to be placed in a foster home. In recent years, some have had to stay in area hospitals for over a year; currently one child has been there since April. Today, 19 are ready to leave. They are missing so much.

Everything we know tells us that the first year of an infant's life is crucial. This is the time when children have the opportunity to forge strong family ties and to fasten onto a familiar face and hand. What the experts call bonding is an essential part of a child's development, and this is when it happens. To the surrogate mothers of boarder babies in the hospital wards today -- those mothers in white and the other volunteer parent substitutes who provide the only love and warmth these little children receive -- the community's thanks and gratitude are due.

But the community can do more than that. There are projects and organizations in the area that are trying to help these abandoned infants. These range from the D.C. Boarder Baby project to Hands of Mercy and For Love of Children and the Capital City Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. They deserve support from the rest of us in their efforts to give these babies the place they deserve in someone's heart and home.