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Helping Haiti with more than money

By Gerri Willis, personal finance editor


NEW YORK (CNN) -- Americans have donated over $275 million dollars to the Haiti relief efforts but money isn't the only thing you can give. Here are some ideas on how to help out if you don't have readily available cash.

1. Plan to go overseas

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Volunteers without disaster relief experience are generally not sent to disaster zones. That said this may be the time to prepare yourself for service in a future disaster.

Most agencies require at least 10 years of experience -- plus several years of experience working overseas, says Suzanne Brooks at the Center for International Disaster Information.

Time commitment is another factor. Often volunteers have to commit at least three months working on a particular disaster.

And of course, there are economic reasons to keep you home. Once a relief agency accepts you as a volunteer -- that agency is responsible for your food, shelter, health and security. And this can be a huge burden at a time when resources are already strained.

To get started, go to your local Red Cross chapter and get more information on their disaster services training courses. This way you can work your way up to joining relief efforts overseas.

2. Medical assistance

Obviously there is a great medical emergency in Haiti. If you want to offer your services, make sure you're working with an agency that is already working on the ground and has authorization to bring in personnel and medicine.

Right now the International Medical Corps is taking applications for volunteer doctors and nurses. For more information, go to their Web site at IMCworldwide.org and click on the "Work for Us" tab. Keep in mind that down the road, there will be more opportunities to volunteer.

3. Volunteer locally

If you are not a doctor and cannot volunteer abroad you can still help out where you are. Go to your local Red Cross chapter. You may be able to help answer phones, organize and plan community fundraising efforts. The Red Cross also has a database so people can find their Haitian relatives. As a volunteer, you can help reconnect people in war and disaster.

The Red Cross also has other types of disaster services training. These are classes that prepare you to deal with smaller disasters, like a house fire or other domestic disasters such as hurricanes; eventually you can be trained for international disasters.

For more information, go to redcross.org and type in your zip code to get the closest Red Cross chapter near you.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Talkback: Are you planning on donating? To top of page

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