Americans Giving Big to Haiti Relief Effort

While Americans might hope their donation is buying a bottle of water or an energy bar for a Haitian without a home, at this point most of the money is being spent on gasoline.

"What you're buying mostly is that logistical support. They're trucking in a lot of these supplies right now because the ports have been destroyed," Palmer said.

And even though all those people at the embassy Sunday were dropping off goods, most charities would rather have cash.

"While it's a wonderful instinct for people to say I want to give a blanket to someone who needs it, don't do that. That's not helpful," Palmer said. "The charity can get it much cheaper, much faster, more quickly, if you give cash."

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