Zakatul Fitr is sometimes confused by some people with Zakat.
Zakat is our fourth pillar of Islam, and it is paying a certain monetary percentage of our wealth to cleanse ourselves and a set amount for the poor.
Zakatul Fitr is a set giveaway that we need to make on behalf of ourselves and every person in our care whether young and old before Eid Al-Fitr to cleanse ourselves (small talk or insults during the day, losing patience, intercourse at night etc.) and to feed the poor as an expression of our understanding of the sense of hunger, and it is to ask God to accept our fasting to gain his forgiveness.
Ibn Omar -RA- said "The prophet -pbuh- required Zakatul Fitr at the end of Ramadan on every muslim, to give out a SaaAA of dates or barley; on the free and slave, the male and female, and the young and old. And he ordered it to be made before the prayer for Eid." Sahih Al-Bukhary
Its requirement: Zakatul Fitr is an obligation, not optional. Scholars explain that it is required on every muslim for himself and his living dependent family members (unborn babies don't count) as long as they can afford their daily meals, and it is to be made any time in the last two days of Ramadan.
Scholars also agree that you have to release food, not money. It is a worship, not a payment, and worship rulings are set (Mawqoofa) and are not subject to additions or substitution. Very few scholars believe that paying an amount to a charity that will feed people before Eid El-Fitr, or sell zakatul fitr tickets is permissible, however there is no daleel to that opinion, and the actions of the prophet and sahaba were always giving out food.
Wisdom behind it: According to Ibn Abbas -RA-hadith "Prophet -pbuh- obligated zakatul fitr on muslims to cleanse them from frivalous talking (Laghw) and intercourse (rafath) and to feed the distitute and poor. Whomever makes it in time before Eid prayers it is accepted zakatul fitr, whomever does it afterwards it is not zakatul fitr but charity." Abu Dawod and Ibn Majeh
Type of food: Any staple of human consumption; dates or tamr or rice or flour. Abu Saeed Al-Khoudry said: "We used to give out one SaaAA from our food, which was raisins or barley or pastry or dates" Sahih Al-Bukhary
When: Before Eid by a day or two up to Eid prayer. Narrated by Nafee the servant of Ibn Omar -RA- "He used to give it one or two days before Eid"
How much: SaaAA is a measurement unit of Madina, it is a unit of amount and volume rather than weight. The prophet -pbuh- said "Measure amounts as per the measurement of the people of Madina, and measure the weights as per the measurement of the people of Makka". This makes an important difference because one SaaAA of rice is heavier than one SaaAA of flour or dates for example.
One SaaAA of Madina = 3 liters
See the following table for amounts of rice and other staples that this represents:
One SaaAA of:
Flour = 2.100 kgs
Beshawar Rice = 2.500 kgs
Egyptian Rice = 2.750 kgs
American Rice = 2.500 kgs
Wheat = 2.200 kgs
Barley = 2.100
dates (uncompressed) = 2.000 kgs
dates (compressed) = 2.800 kgs
Raisins = 2.500 kgs
(Rounded to the nearest 100 grams, always up for good measure)
Anything else, use a measurement jug to find 3 liters, be safe and add a bit for good measure, and you should be ok.
Who should receive it: Poor people who are in need, as per Ibn Abbas hadith earlier. Friends and family are not appropriate recipients, this is not a gift like Eid Al-Adha (unless they are in dire need).
So brothers and sisters what you need to do is to prepare the amounts early on, multiplied by the number of people under your care, and two days before Eid go out and find poor muslims at the masjed or ask the imam, or if you are living in a muslim country just find those in need and give it to them.
And may your Fasting and Prayer and Reading be accepted