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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Please print my letter about volunteering on suicide prevention/crisis hotlines.

Suicide affects most of us at some time in our lives. Most of us know someone who has considered suicide, attempted it or killed himself or herself. While it is a challenge to talk with someone about suicide, doing so opens communication in an amazing way. It is an enriching experience for both the person in crisis and the volunteer. I hope the U.S. surgeon general's recent statements on this issue will draw nationwide attention to its importance. There IS something that can be done about it -- become a volunteer! Contact your local suicide prevention/crisis hotline and find out how. -- A VOLUNTEER IN SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR VOLUNTEER: Your letter is an important one. I'm often asked to recommend worthy causes to which people can donate time or money. I can think of no more meaningful way to fill one's extra time than by literally saving the lives of others. It takes some time and training to become a hotline volunteer; however, the emotional payoff is beyond description.

DEAR ABBY: Here's how we solved the "appropriate gift" problem for our elderly parents.

Knowing that my mother-in-law was having difficulty keeping her house cleaned (vacuuming, floor scrubbing, etc.), we decided to give them one gift that would last all year. We eliminated Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthday, anniversary and Christmas presents, and instead hired someone to come into their home and clean it once a month. My husband, his sister and I pay for the service each month.

We lost my mother-in-law last year, and the day after her funeral, my father-in-law asked if we could continue the service because it was so very much appreciated.

No longer do I have to wrack my brain to buy something I'm not sure would be wanted or needed. -- ANN MANOS, GRAVETTE, ARK.

DEAR ANN: I can't think of a more practical gift. Thanks for an ingenious solution to a problem that crops up every year. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: A reader asked you how to stop elderly relatives from sending useless gifts without hurting their feelings.

I would suggest that the reader tell them how much a record of their own history and personal recollections would mean to younger members of the family. These stories could be written or taped, but should always be identified as to who the person is and all the proper dates. They could also be recorded in installments and given on various gift-giving occasions. Many families would deeply appreciate such gifts. Historical societies could no doubt help the elderly with suggestions, if needed.

My mother was born in the late 1800s to pioneer parents. I am grateful that she allowed me to tape her recollections of her parents as well as her own experiences. Many children and other relatives would appreciate similar gifts. -- HARRIET FROM TAMPA

DEAR HARRIET: That's a terrific suggestion. A collection of written recollections would make a unique bound volume after a few years -- and the collection of tapes becomes a one-of-a-kind library or oral history.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 per booklet ($4.50 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklets I and II, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

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