Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am an 82-year-old volunteer at one of our finest hospitals. Over a period of 45 years, I have accumulated 16,300 hours of service. I am enclosing a letter I clipped from a column you wrote in 1979. Please run it again. It would be extremely helpful to all who volunteer their services in hospitals and nursing homes.

Thanking you in advance, I am ... MRS. EDNA S. GREENBERG, TYLER, TEXAS

DEAR MRS. GREENBERG: Congratulations for the number of hours you have served as a hospital volunteer. And thank you for the item you saved from my column. I agree, it's worth a rerun, and here it is:

DEAR ABBY: Do you want to do the hospital volunteers a big favor? Please tell your readers that mail addressed to "Buzz" Jackson, "Skip" Jones or "Tootsie" Brown will probably not be delivered to patients in a hospital.

Nicknames are not recorded on hospital records. The patients are registered under their legal names (first, middle and last). We have no idea who "Liz," "Corky," "Red" or "Junior" is.

Yesterday I looked for "Al Johnson" and found none. However, I did find a "Henry Alvin Johnson." I later learned that the patient called himself "Al" so he wouldn't be confused with his father, who was called "Henry."

So, please print this, Abby. I could cry every time I see a stack of mail that can't be delivered because it is improperly addressed.

And wouldn't you know, the sender never puts a return address on the envelope, either! -- FRUSTRATED IN PHOENIX

DEAR FRUSTRATED: I'll pass the word. I hope it helps.

DEAR ABBY: Several months ago you reprinted a letter from "Open for Suggestions" about a woman who was concerned about her daughter's classmate who came to school dirty. You advised that she contact the teacher, who would then contact the proper authorities.

I know your heart was in the right place, but really Abby, does our first recourse need to be contacting the authorities? I have been a foster parent and know how frightening the authorities can be to a child and a family.

"Open to Suggestions" wanted to talk to the boy's mother. I think she was on the right track. She should have gotten to know the woman as a friend and then made suggestions about the boy's appearance. His parents may have only needed some friendly educating. And of course, if on her first visit it was obvious that the child was neglected, after that she could have spoken to the teacher.

I grew up in a home that was filthy. I often wore the same clothes for days. We rarely washed the sheets, and I had no idea people ever washed floors or windows. But my parents fed and sheltered me. They helped me with schoolwork, marveled at my creations, held me when I cried, remembered my birthday, read me bedtime stories and so much more. The things I learned from them are more valuable than clean clothes. (Later, I learned housekeeping from my mother-in-law.)

These days people don't take the time to know others. If our neighbors are noisy, we call the police. If nearby residents don't mow their lawns, we call city authorities. If a co-worker crosses us, we complain to the boss.

I vote for talking out our differences and calling in help as a last resort. I learned this from my dear parents, who both held master's degrees in the sciences from leading universities -- and from you, Dear Abby. -- A FAITHFUL FAN

CONFIDENTIAL TO THOSE WHO READ ME FAITHFULLY, OCCASIONALLY OR RARELY: Have a merry Christmas. If you're drinking, please don't drive. And if you're driving, please don't drink.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600