Recently, people have started sending cards on Purim saying, “I’m making a donation to this charity in your name instead of mishloach manot”, (the gifts of food parcels to friends that are among the mitzvot of Purim).
This impetus behind this seems to be a sense that mishloach manot can get out of hand. Between gourmet food packages that cost hundreds and elaborate rainbow hamantaschen, the investments people make in mishloach manot can obscure the religious meaning.
Halachically, charity does not precisely substitute for mishloach manot. “Sending gifts of food, each person to his friend” (Esther 9:22) is meant to strengthen the bonds of love and friendship between us, repairing the “scattered and separate” nature of the Jews in Persia which Haman tried to exploit. The personal aspect of mishloach manot matters. Maimonides, however, says that we should spend more money on Purim charity for the poor than on mishloach manot. The impulse to focus more on charity is the right one.