Good intentions result in so many crap gifts (seriously, does your mother really need that electric tea maker?). Instead, consider donating to a food-related charity in Mom's name. You'll feel all warm inside, and you'll save your mom that post-holiday trip to the Goodwill donation truck.
1. Help end hunger. National relief agency Feeding America runs a number of programs, most administered through hundreds of local food banks in cities across America. The only way to know what's needed in your city is to contact your local food bank. Feeding America makes that easy with an amazingly comprehensive directory of food banks, including contact information and a list of services each offers.
2. Preserve food traditions. Did you swear off Wesson for olive oil after reading articles back in the 1990s about the Mediterranean diet? The Oldways Preservation Trust probably had something to do with it. Donations support the trust's consumer and industry educational outreach efforts, which highlight healthy traditional foods around the world.
3. Shore up an organic pioneer. The Rodale Institute advocated organic gardening and agriculture starting in 1947. Far out then, totally sensible now, in part because of Rodale's decades of research on its Pennsylvania farm-and-lab complex. Donations support programs like Rodale's Farming Systems Trial, which does side-by-side comparisons of conventional and organic crops.
4. Plant fruit trees for the hungry. Give a poor person an apple and he'll eat one snack. Plant a fruit tree in a public spot and it can provide nutrition to generations of the hungry. Donations to The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation help plant orchards where they're needed most: near homeless shelters, drug rehab centers, and food pantries.
5. Buy a green African "fridge." Something like a $50 donation buys a Sudanese family a zeer pot, a lidded clay vessel that nests inside another insulated with wet sand—it can keep food cool for 20 days. The global nonprofit Practical Action has plenty of other options on its Practical Presents site, too, including buying fish cages for Bangladeshi flood victims and supporting a baobab tree-planting program.
6. Further food science. If you want to know what influences babies' palates in the womb or why sugar is such a rush, the Monell Chemical Senses Center has the scientifically researched answer. Donations keep the lab lights on.
7. Feed kids on the weekend. Thanks to the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs (much maligned but better than nothing), even the poorest of children can be assured of at least two meals a day … except Saturdays and Sundays, that is. That's where Blessings in a Backpack steps in, distributing food-filled backpacks to kids at school on Friday that they'll return on Monday. Because of corporate partnerships, an $80 donation feeds one child for an entire school year.
8. Plant school gardens. Everybody but Congress knows that pizza isn't a vegetable, especially the young gardeners lucky enough to be part of the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, California. The project has expanded its focus to push whole-food education and spawned affiliates in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Lake Placid, New York.
9. Save heirloom seeds. You know how commodity Red and Yellow Delicious apples just aren't? The original Delicious apple, the Hawkeye, actually was, and still is, at Seed Savers Exchange's Heritage Farm, where hundreds of varieties of heirloom plants evade extinction. If you go to the website to donate you'll end up drooling over the exotic potatoes and interesting dried beans available there, too.