IT HAS BEEN a season of staggering natural disasters. First the earthquake in Mexico City.

Then, in rapid succession, mud slides in Puerto Rico, floods in West Virginia and a volcanic eruption in Colombia. Tens of thousands have been killed and many more left homeless. These tragedies have moved Americans, for all four events were sudden, devastating and unpredictable. Here in this city one constantly sees, on the streets, people who are the victims of another kind of disaster -- unspectacular, usually private and personal. Most Americans, including many of those who are comparatively poor, live in a world that is remarkable for its prosperity and physical safety. It is always difficult not to fall into the habit of dismissing these misfortunes to others as inevitable and of stepping briskly around them in the business of getting the day's work done.

The poverty and misery that afflict much of the world's population are conditions that can be alleviated, not only through international aid programs but also by technological and planning assistance that promises to improve the living conditions of the world's poor. Because few Americans will starve in the desert, lose a child to malaria or contract river blindness, they find it easy to believe that they are safe from these perils. Natural disasters are not the same. These evoke a quick sense of vulnerability for, after all, earthquakes and floods threaten rich and poor alike.

Many families, gathered today to count blessings and give thanks, will have these recent calamities in mind. They have been spared. They are safe and most of them today will be comfortable, well-fed and surrounded by people for whom they care. Many area churches and service organizations will be providing food and comfort for the less fortunate. In West Virginia and in Puerto Rico, help is being provided to disaster victims. And in Mexico and Colombia, the U.S. government and the international relief agencies that rely on American donations are providing substantial aid.

A material contribution to these efforts -- helping the poor at home and the victims of catastrophe in this country and abroad -- is a fine way to give thanks and share the American bounty.