Whole Foods begins outreach, donations

April 1, 2011
By

David Taber

HYDE SQ.—After over two months of relative silence, officials from Whole Foods Market, which is planning to open a new store at 415 Centre St., told the Gazette last week that they plan to hold a meeting in Jamaica Plain in May.

Meanwhile, the new grocer has begun advertising in Spanish in local newspapers, including the Gazette, and recently hosted a highly publicized “5 percent day” fund-raiser, raising $8,500 for the local non-profit the Hyde Square Task Force. Before and since it announced its move to JP, Whole Food has made charitable contributions of various sizes to 18 local non-profits, Rehfield told the Gazette, including at least one run by a Whole Foods opponent.

Since the Gazette first reported in February on Whole Foods planned move to Hyde Square, community residents and elected officials have been curious about the grocers’ plans for the site. Residents have wondered about traffic and parking issues, local hiring, and kind of community reinvestment the international grocer might undertake, among other things.

“We do indeed have plans to announce the dates of JP community meetings soon…We are planning to hold [one] in May,” Whole Foods spokesperson Robin Rehfield told the Gazette in a recent e-mail. The exact date will be announced in late April, she said.

Rehfield told the Gazette the date the new store will open has not been finalized.

Meanwhile, in its most public display of attention to the Hyde Square neighborhood to date, the grocer donated 5 percent of the profits it earned March 22 at Whole Foods stores in the Fenway and Brighton, to the local youth and community development non-profit HSTF.

Whole Foods’ planned move to the square has been controversial. Opponents of the move say they fear that the new Whole Foods is a harbinger of higher property values that will displace low- and moderate-income residents. They also say that Whole Foods’ replacing Hi-Lo Foods—a grocery store that catered to JP’s Latino community and had a reputation for carrying low-cost items—is a blow to the neighborhood’s cultural diversity.

Conscious of that controversy, HSTF spokesperson Paul Trunnell told the Gazette that the fund-raising event gives “no indication about what our position or demands are regarding the idea of a Whole Foods moving to this neighborhood.”

Historically, HSTF is “committed to keeping this neighborhood affordable and diverse,” he said.

HSTF began discussing being the recipient of a 5 percent day donation from Whole Foods in 2010, Trunnell said. They had originally been scheduled to move forward last December.

“It was something that had been in the works,” he said. The news of Whole Foods’ planned move to the square sparked an internal conversation within the non-profit about whether “we want to do this now,” Trunnell said.

Rehfield said that Whole Foods’ support for the 17 other organizations has ranged from “a gift card, to a food donation, to register coupon sales or even a five percent day.”

Rosalba Solis, head of La Piñata, a local non-profit devoted to preserving Latin American culture, said a $100 donation Whole Foods made to a Day of The Dead festival the non-profit held has not swayed her in her opposition to the Hyde Square store.

“I have been working for decades to build a neighborhood that is diverse, affordable and safe,” she said. “We have been trying so carefully to keep it clean and safe, not for some wealthier people to have. I don’t want JP to be gentrified,” she said.

Whole Foods also recently made a contribution to a fund-raiser auction for the Curley K-8 School on Centre St. Parents who organized that fund-raiser did not respond to Gazette calls requesting comment.

Whole Foods is making some effort to reach out to JP’s Latino community. In the March 18 issue of the Gazette, the grocer began advertising in Spanish, highlighting the low cost of its mangoes, chicken breast and Three Sisters brand cereal.

Many community residents have expressed concerns that the loss of Hi-Lo will make it harder to obtain food items specific to Latin American cuisine in the neighborhood. In its ad, Whole Foods advertises its mangos as being from Mexico, but the other items advertised are not specific to Latin American cuisine.