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Peter MacKay, the Minister of National Defence, speaks to the crew of HMCS Halifax on Thursday, January 14, shortly before the ship left Halifax for Haiti.

Mike Dembeck

Visions of crumbled buildings and decaying bodies on the streets of Port-au-Prince haunted Roger Sparks as he arrived for work at the Lambton Central Collegiate Vocational Institute in Petrolia, Ont.

So Mr. Sparks, a guidance counsellor, interrupted morning announcements to ask the school's 1,000 students for donations. Then he sat in a common area with a picture of the devastation - one he had clipped from a local newspaper - pasted on the wall behind him.

"In the first half hour, we collected over $800, and another $200 came in at lunchtime," Mr. Sparks said.

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It arrived in loonies and toonies, quarters and $5 bills - lunch-money offerings of support to a ruined nation from teenagers in a small Ontario community that is part of one of the most generous countries on Earth.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, less than 48 hours after the quake ripped through the Haitian capital, donations from individuals to the Canadian Red Cross had topped $3-million. There was an additional $350,000 from Canadian corporations.

The International Federation of the Red Cross made a preliminary appeal for about $10-million to respond to the emergency. Canada alone has already raised a third of that target.

The Canadian government has set aside $50-million to match, dollar for dollar, the funds donated by individual Canadians. It may not take long for that pot to be used up. Churches, Rotary clubs, and Legion halls have taken up the cause.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said yesterday that his government will donate $500,000 to the Red Cross. And the province's Forests Minister, Pat Bell, said the province is ready to offer assistance in rebuilding once the first responders have completed their work.

Rushing to help when disaster hits is nothing new for Canadians. This country was the top contributor to the relief effort that followed the earthquake in China's Sichuan province in 2008 and is consistently among the top-five donor nations worldwide.

But the methods being used to collect the cash are changing. Facebook sites urge people to donate, and Twitter is broadcasting 100 tweets a minute that include the word Haiti.

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Money can still be pledged by phone. But the websites of the popular aid organizations have been inundated. The website of the Canadian International Development Agency crashed yesterday afternoon due to unusual high traffic - possibly the result of Canadians trying to find out how to make donations.

And cellphones can now be used to text money to aid groups with the charge turning up on the donor's next phone bill.

Andrew Burditt of the Salvation Army, one of the organizations that has turned to cellphone donations, said that it was too soon to measure the technology's success. But "our Web guy tells us that all of the tweets and retweets and blogs and reblogs and posts of the specific mention of our text-to-donate was through the roof."

Caroline Riseboro of World Vision Canada said her organization raised almost $1-million from Canadians in the first day and a half after the earthquake hit. She expects that will double by this morning.

"What we're asking people to do is give $10 and then pass on the message in a challenge to their friends and family members on Facebook, to their followers on Twitter," Ms. Riseboro said. "And we're seeing a phenomenal response."

The federal government warned Canadians to check the Revenue Canada website to determine whether lesser-known charities soliciting donations are legitimate. There are those who would prey on Canadian generosity.

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But they are counterbalanced by the enormous number people who have responded to the plight of Haiti with real action.

Former Canadian ambassador Frank McKenna is organizing a planeload of food and medical supplies to leave for Haiti tomorrow in conjunction with the OneXOne Foundation.

"This is just a small pebble in a big pond," Mr. McKenna said from his office at Toronto-Dominion Bank where he is deputy chair.

"So many people from around the world are making their way to Haiti to do good work. It's the only bright spot that one can find in this terrible tragedy."

With reports from Paul Waldie in Toronto and Justine Hunter in Victoria

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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