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(CNN) With so many recent natural disasters affecting millions of people all over the globe, the constant calls for donations from celebrities and aid organizations can be overwhelming. Especially in difficult economic times, donating to relief efforts may not be practical, even for the most empathetic.

The good news is your time can sometimes make as big an impact as your money. This September 11th will not only be a day of remembrance, but also a National Service Day. President Obama’s National Day of Remembrance and Service proclamation asked Americans to make volunteering and service part of their way of life.

To help you get started and get inspired, consider some of these do-it-yourself ideas and tips from the government organization United We Serve for volunteering in your community:

• Organize a book drive: It is documented that students who score high on achievement tests have easy access to books in the community at large, in well-stocked libraries and schools with many textbooks. Studies show that low-income neighborhoods offer, on average, one book per 300 children. Make an impact in your community by organizing a book drive to help increase reading achievement and literacy.

• Start a walking team: Health care costs may change for some in the coming years because of recent health reform, but one of the main problems with the system — people’s health — can’t be regulated by Congress. Something as simple as walking 30 minutes a day can make a real difference for long-term health. Organize your neighbors to take brisk, half-hour walks more than five days a week to reap benefits for yourself and your community.

• Organize a clothing drive: Thanks to the economy and housing crises, not only families but also entire neighborhoods have been devastated by foreclosures, blight and loss of income. In order to support your community in these lean times, provide for your less fortunate neighbors’ most immediate needs by organizing a clothing drive. By collecting gently used clothes from family and friends, you could help someone land a job, stay warm this winter and regain some dignity.

• Learn how to “Glean”: Collect excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, grocery stores, restaurants and other sources, in order to provide it to those who need it most. It is estimated that in 2009 up to 20 percent of the country’s food supply went to waste. With 49 million people (including 16 million children) in danger of going hungry, the excess food you collect could make dramatic improvements in peoples’ health and save lives.

• Help prepare your community for disasters: Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires prove every year that the awesome power of nature can wreak massive devastation. Whether or not you live in a part of the country known for experiencing extreme weather, it’s important to know how to stay safe in the event of a disaster, especially for those with disabilities. Learn how to be prepared in your own home, neighborhood, business or school and share that knowledge with others.

By Robin Downes

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