Purim is a day for fostering unity. The sages instituted a number of mitzvos towards that goal including charity to at least two poor people (matanos levyonim), a gift to at least 1 friend (shaloch manos), and a festive meal (seudos purim) with family and friends. The gift should consist of two portions of significant food items. Since funds are usually limited, most halachic authorities say that charity for the poor takes precedence over gifts to friends.
Shaloch Manos has certainly changed over the years with the addition of poems, themes and more elaborate gifts. I think that a case can be made that this mitzvah is a healthy outlet for those with the creativity needs, the time and the money to carry this out. However, it does create a pressure, which was not what Chazal intended.
Another area of change is that people give many more Shaloch Manos than the one gift that halacha requires. This creates FOLO, Fear Of Leaving Out. Since we are giving out so many, we are afraid that someone will be offended if we leave them out. Shuls and other organizations have addressed FOLO anxiety by creating Shaloch Manos giving programs whereby you give to a number of people in one fell swoop.
A typical Shaloch Manos program for a Shul with 100 members charges $3.00 for each member to whom you want to send. For $125 you can send to all the members in the Shul. A reciprocity option sometimes exists to automatically send to people who send to you, which is another FOLO reliever. Each member receives the same Shaloch Manos basket with a list of the people who sent to them. With the baskets costing about $25 each, and a 60%-70% participant rate, this 100 member Shul would make between $4,000 – $6,000.
I’m an Avel this year, so I can return to the days of yore because I’m only giving one Shaloch Manos. I’m going to try and make it a significant for the recipient.