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With Market Basket empty, some turn to food pantries

 The Rev. Karen Coleman, putting together a basket of supplies at her Helping Hand Food Pantry in Cambridge, links an increase in families seeking help to Market Basket’s troubles.

Zack Wittman/Boston Globe

The Rev. Karen Coleman, putting together a basket of supplies at her Helping Hand Food Pantry in Cambridge, links an increase in families seeking help to Market Basket’s troubles.

CAMBRIDGE — With four picky children at home, Margorei Goseeth would make weekly trips to the nearby Market Basket in Somerville, where she bought Sunny Delight, Yoplait yogurt, and Lunchables at affordable prices to satisfy her children’s whims.

But these days, her preferred supermarket is like a desert, as the embattled chain has been beset by employee walkouts in the midst of a management dispute, leading to empty shelves and barren stores. Goseeth’s food stamp benefits don’t go as far at another local supermarket, where prices are significantly higher, the 42-year-old single mother said.

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So Goseeth has turned to the Helping Hand Food Pantry in Cambridge to put enough food on the table. She now makes weekly trips to Helping Hand, as well as a few other pantries in the area, to supplement her grocery shopping.

On Tuesday, she left Helping Hand, which is run by St. James’s Episcopal Church, on Massachusetts Avenue near Porter Square, with a cart full of corn, kale, apple juice, pasta, and ground turkey, and thanked the pantry volunteers with a cheerful smile.

“I’m coming to pantries because it’s more expensive at other places than Market Basket,” she said. “At Market Basket, I would buy everything.’’

Cut off from Market Basket stores around the region, many people like Goseeth are turning to food pantries after finding that their dollars don’t go as far at the competition, said the Rev. Laura Everett, director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.

“There’s been an increased need earlier in the month, and some are running out of food,” Everett said. “Market Basket provided affordable food folks could walk by and get.”

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Helping Hand’s director, the Rev. Karen Coleman, said the pantry has seen a surge of people coming in since the Market Basket dispute began. In the last month, she has seen about 30 new families in addition to the 365 that the pantry regularly serves, some of whom, like Goseeth, have complained about the higher prices at Market Basket’s competitors.

“I figured it’s related to Market Basket because I haven't seen an uptick like this before in the three years I’ve worked here,” Coleman said.

The Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy, at First Church Congregational in Rochester, N.H., said she was surprised when the church’s small food pantry received a crush of people in the middle of this month.

Usually, those in need of groceries will turn up at the end of the month, when their food stamps have run out, she said, but many are now needing help earlier.

“It’s a tough go for a lot of folks,” Buchakjian-Tweedy said.

The church’s pantry is dependent on donations from the congregation of 200 and local residents, but donations have also dropped, she said, perhaps because of the shortage of affordable food.

In smaller cities with fewer grocery-shopping options, the elderly in particular have been hit hard by Market Basket’s empty shelves, said the Rev. Rafael Najem, senior pastor of Community Christian Fellowship, which has sites in Haverhill, Lawrence, and Lowell.

Najem said some elderly members of his church with limited mobility had bought homes because of their proximity to the Market Basket in central Lowell. Now some of them have started getting food from a pantry Najem helps run. Sometimes he drivers parishioners to other supermarkets in town.

The Rev. Jane Bearden, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Haverhill, where three of the four supermarkets in town are Market Baskets, said she is considering organizing carpools and renting vans to take members of her congregation and food pantry clients to neighboring towns that have more grocery shopping options.

As she filled the cart for the last client of the day, Coleman said Market Basket had “better get its act together” this week, before food stamp benefits are distributed to recipients the first week of September.

“They’re going to lose out on a lot if they don’t,” she said, with its would-be customers forced to buy their groceries at other stores.

Oliver Ortega can be reached at oliver.ortega@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByOliverOrtega.
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