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Laura Grevas/Daily Globe This cell phone screen displays a message from the Red Cross after a text donation was made.

Whether by text, Internet or check, local Red Cross office encourages donations

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WORTHINGTON -- Ten dollars may not seem like much, but when it comes from a multitude of different pockets, it can sure add up fast.

According to Joyce Jacobs, the executive director at the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross, more than $20 million in donations was raised via cell phone within the first week after a catastrophic earthquake rumbled through Haiti, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

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"Twenty million dollars," Jacobs remarked. "That shows the power of a $10 donation."

The ability for cell phone users to donate by sending a text message is easy and convenient, and U.S. wireless subscribers have shown a tremendous response. Online contributions have also been strong and generous, totaling more than $100 million since the earthquake.

"The best method to give is through one of these electronic methods," Jacobs stated. "It is the quickest way to get the dollars to where they will help."

To donate via text message, send the word "HAITI" to 90999. The $10 fee will be included on the next billing statement. The unique fundraising effort was launched three hours after the earthquake struck.

Online, anyone wishing to donate can visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS, but Jacobs said anyone who prefers to write a check can drop it off at the Red Cross office in Worthington or mail it to 716 Oxford St., Worthington, MN 56187. To make sure the funds are designated for international relief, "Haiti" should be written in the memo line of the check.

"We want to encourage people to open up their hearts and give what they can," Jacobs stated. "We appreciate every dollar that goes."

The Red Cross is one of many reputable ways to donate to Haiti relief, but authorities are cautioning people who receive online appeals for funds to beware of scams.

Within the first 24 hours after the earthquake, several scams were already appearing across the nation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a statement in that same timeframe reminding Internet users to follow certain guidelines before donating.

The FBI advised not responding to unsolicited incoming emails, to be skeptical of anyone representing themselves as a surviving victim or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.

Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, advised givers to be careful about donating online and suggested using the Internet to check on the charity before sending funds.

More than 60 new Web sites that seem connected to Haiti earthquake relief were created within 36 hours of the event. Typing the name of well-known charitable institutions instead of following links that may lead you astray is the best bet, the FBI recommended.

Currently Jacob said the Red Cross is accepting monetary donations only.

"Money is what is needed," she said. "Sometimes people think only large donations are need and little gifts won't help, but really, every dollar helps."

According to various news articles, well-meaning citizens donated items after the Dec. 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that would have better off staying home. Shipments of winter coats and hats clogged a tropical system already bottle-necked, and boxes of clothing ended up on the side of the road.

Many people are interested in donating time and efforts, Jacobs said, but for right now the teams being sent to Haiti are highly-trained and experienced volunteers who have been through international disasters in countries all over the world.

"Maybe, as time goes on, that may change, but that is somewhere down the road," she stated. ""Helping the people of Haiti is going to be a long effort for the entire world."

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