NEW YORK (AP)_ She was wearing a mask and clutching her asthma inhaler. Her eyes, wide with fright, were caked with ash. Still, Collette Smith wouldn't have been anywhere else but digging through the rubble of the World Trade Center, volunteering her time and skills for the city she loves.
``It was like a mission,'' said the 32-year-old computer worker from the borough of Queens. ``It was just something I had to do.''
All over the country, people felt the same. From the white-coated nurse wiping ash off an exhausted firefighter, to donors waiting hours to give blood, to corporations signing multimillion-dollar checks, America opened its wallets and hearts in an unprecedented outpouring of giving this week.
In business, in trades, in the arts, in schools, people have felt compelled to donate to relief efforts in New York and Washington. Contributions are so overwhelming and continue to come in so fast that relief agencies can't begin to calculate them.
``We've all lost people, we've all lost something,'' said Richard Weiss of the Laborers International Union, which bused hundreds of hard-hatted volunteers to the site. The union, which represents 16,000 workers in New York City, also donated boxes of respirators, masks and work gear.
``We didn't do it as union members,'' Weiss said. ``We did it because we are New Yorkers and human beings and because we just wanted to help.''
In New Orleans, a TV station's on-the-street fund drive for victims of the attacks picked up $300,000 in cash in less than 24 hours _ and the money was still pouring in. Children came with coin-filled piggy banks, and more than $1,000 was sent from the Guste public housing development, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
``People needed to do something,'' said WDSU-TV news director Margaret Cordes. ``We can't just sit around and let terrorists take over our country.''
In similar spirit, The Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis, the nation's second-largest foundation, pledged $30 million, the largest sum the endowment has ever donated to a relief effort.
``We can't be there on the front lines, but like everyone else we wanted to help,'' said Gretchen Wolfram, spokesman for the foundation.
Other pledges from large corporations poured in: $10 million from General Electric Co., $10 million from Microsoft, $10 million from DaimlerChrysler, $5 million from Amerada Hess Corp., $3 million from Hewlett-Packard Co., $2 million from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and $1 million from MGM Mirage Inc., the largest hotel-casino owner in Las Vegas.
Many of the announcements were accompanied by statements of appreciation for the bravery and courage of rescue workers in New York.
``The scope of the response has been unbelievable,'' said Dorothy Ridings, president of the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C., which has been swamped with offers of help. ``We've never seen a tragedy like this, and we've never seen donations like this.
And not just from around the United States.
``Today I had an e-mail from a business in Bangladesh, offering help,'' Ridings said. ``It made me weep.''
Money and pledges were coming in at such a rate, Ridings said, that she had no idea how much had been raised. Those that didn't raise money contributed in other ways.
Students at McKinley Thatcher elementary school in Denver wrote letters and drew pictures to send to New York students.
One 8-year-old boy wrote, ``I hope this picture makes you feel better. I will make a beautiful picture for you of the mountains so you can see what Denver's mountains look like.''
In Chicago, people waited for hours to donate blood, bought sympathy cards for families of victims in New York and drove to the Empire State to volunteer their skills.
``New York is kind of like a big brother to Chicago. Now the bigger, older brother got hurt and the little brother is helping out,'' said 26-year-old Eric Boyd as he waited in a two-hour line outside Chicago City Hall to give blood.
In Smithton, Ill., service station owner Drew Sakran sent a cashier's check for $910.70 in the name of his customers to the American Red Cross. He explained that he had raised his gas prices after the attacks and didn't want people to think he was a price gouger.
In Rochester, singer-songwriter Don McLean, who wrote the 1971 classic ``American Pie,'' pledged $1 from each ticket sold to his show Saturday at the 2,900-seat Landmark Theater, while residents in nearby Canandaigua were arranging to send 500 home-baked apple pies to rescue teams.
Pop diva Madonna resumed her regular tour schedule Thursday in Los Angeles, asking for a moment of silence for those killed and injured and pledging the proceeds from the show to help victims' families.
``It is absolutely astounding to me the overwhelming support all across the country of people wanting to do something,'' said Maj. Thomas Applin, the Salvation Army's emergency disaster coordinator for upstate New York.
In Lake Forest, Ill., Abbott Laboratories, the second-largest U.S. supplier of hospital products, sent a convoy of supply trucks to New York and Washington-area hospitals. The company also arranged to send blood donations from Illinois in refrigerated trucks.
There were convoys rolling in from other parts, too.
The Kellogg Co. donated five truckloads of products. The Campbell Soup Co. sent caseloads of its V8 Splash drink. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. sent fleets of trucks, vans and sports utility vehicles to the disaster site.
In Malibu, Gladstone's 4 Fish restaurant plans to donate all Sunday's proceeds toward a fund for victims. In New York, the Metropolitan Opera scheduled a benefit performance for Sept. 22 to raise aid money.
And in Northeast Kansas, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation donated $100,000 to the Red Cross relief effort with an oversized cardboard check that read: ``Terrorist attack against the U.S.''
``This is more than a donation of time, or effort,'' said Walter Schaub, a volunteer firefighter from New Jersey, who drove from Columbus, Ohio, after his plane was stranded there. Slumped on the sidewalk, sweat and exhaustion pouring from his face after a day in the rubble, he gratefully accepted a bottle of water donated from a local deli.
``This is part of a brotherhood.''