Just a quick plug for a worthy cause...
In a tight economy, the people who feel the pinch the tightest are those who are already hugging the poverty line. Now, as a general rule, I am personally for smaller government, less welfare, fewer federal fingers in the mix. The yang of that yin is the responsibility for the private sector -- individuals, corporations, churches, etc. -- to help out our neighbors in whatever way we can.
About a year ago I discovered DonorsChoose.org. (Actually, I think I found it because Steven Colbert mentioned it.) DonorsChoose.org allows donors to help children by funding specific projects and programs (which you select based on YOUR preferences) posted on the site. Any teacher can attest to the personal investment that teaching requires, from long hours to emotional involvement to financial strain. I encourage you to visit DonorsChoose.org and find a request that interests YOU.
Likewise, I'm a fan of Angel Tree (and the parent organization, Prison Fellowship). I believe it's important that the child not be punished for the sins of the father...or mother. For the same reason, I financially support Feminists For Life as well. Of course, I encourage you to find an organization that agrees with your priorities.
Because this is a tight economy, charities are being squeezed especially. Households are having trouble making ends meet, so they're less likely to toss change into the Salvation Army bucket. That's not to say we don't want to help. With that in mind, consider giving the eco-friendly gift of honorary donations this Christmas (or whichever holiday you celebrate): give the gift of giving.
You'll feel good about it, as will both of the gift recipients.
And if green is your thing, you can feel good about the fact that charitable donations (depending on the charity) are often tax deductible (saving you green)... and free of superfluous packaging.