The buildup has begun to Thanksgiving's gluttonous buffet. If you're like me, come Thursday you will have cooked enough food to feed the Detroit Lions

and

the Dallas Cowboys. And you'll eat like you got a tip on a famine, only to throw half of your feast away.

Sadly, waste is as much a part of the holiday tradition as giving thanks. Especially here in the land of plenty, where having enough food to eat is a right as basic as having enough air to breathe.

But not for everybody.

Forget turkey. It's tough to choose between a $3 gallon of gas or a $4 gallon of milk when you're living from paycheck to paycheck. It's a daunting prospect that too many people are facing these days.

Food has become an unaffordable privilege. And more than ever, folks - poor and middle-class - are forced to turn to food banks to stretch budgets already about to snap.

Compounding the problem is that Philabundance, the place where needy people have traditionally gone for food assistance, is in urgent need itself.

Bare cupboards

The cupboard at Philabundance - the region's food mothership that services 600 food banks, soup kitchens, shelters and other relief organizations - is almost bare.

"We are in desperate need of food drives," Bill Clark, Philabundance's president and executive director, tells me. Unless his organization can offset a recent 4 percent state budget cut that directly affects Philabundance, it will see a loss of 67,000 pounds of food.

Translated, that means at least 100,000 people statewide stand to go hungry - and not just on Thanksgiving.

"Expenses are growing at a much faster rate than people's incomes," Clark says. "The people who are dancing on the razor's edge of the margin are falling on the 'I need' side rather than the 'I made it' side."

Philabundance's immediate need? Turkeys. And then non-perishable canned fixings, such as pumpkin-pie filling, sweet potatoes or yams, cranberry sauce, mandarin oranges, seasoned stuffing mix, green beans, and turkey gravy.

No boundaries

The need is everywhere.

"Historically, food banks have dealt with poverty and hunger in the inner city," Clark says. But hunger is not limited to a particular geography or demographic. "Upper Darby, Norristown, Coatesville, West Chester . . . "

Not to mention Northeast Philadelphia.

At least for this month, Carla Mackevey will fall on the "I made it" side, thanks to assistance from Somerton Interfaith Food Bank in the Far Northeast.

"It really helps," says Mackevey, 41, as she stocks up on English muffins, doughnuts, peanut butter and beef patties for herself and her 16-year-old son. "I wouldn't be able to buy doughnuts; that's a luxury for me. And when I buy bread, I have to buy

bread

, so these English muffins are a nice treat."

Mackevey suffers from seizures and can't work. Her husband died of a heart attack in 2000. Her monthly income of $758 starts to run out by the end of the month, she says.

"The last couple of weeks, we've been eating Oodles of Noodles and mac and cheese, which isn't very nutritious," she admits.

She won't be back for Thanksgiving; she'll eat that meal at her sister's house, she says. But plenty of people will come to Lewis Chapel for food between now and Wednesday.

Because of the influx of Russian immigrants, Somerton feeds 450 to 600 families a month, 20 percent more than in years past. Volunteer director Compton Chase says 90 percent of those who seek assistance work but can't make ends meet.

"People think there are no poor people in the Northeast?" Chase says. "I tell them, 'Come up here and I'll show you.' "

Somerton receives much of its food from Philabundance. So Chase is echoing Clark's appeal for donations. His food bank needs 110 turkeys before pickup day on Tuesday. He's already received 32 from Philabundance.

"I'm feeding many more zip codes than I used to," Chase says with a sigh. "But I can't turn away hungry people. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night."

Annette John-Hall | For Information

To find out about upcoming food drives, how to donate turkeys, or how to sponsor a food drive for Philabundance, go to

» READ MORE: www.philabundance.org

or call 215-339-0900.

To donate food to the Somerton Interfaith Food Bank or to get information about assistance, call 215-673-1117.