Task Force official works for Whole Foods

April 15, 2011
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HYDE SQ.—The president of the Hyde Square Task Force’s (HSTF) board of directors is employed by Whole Foods Market, the grocer that is controversially moving into the neighborhood and recently donated money to the HSTF. But that has no influence on how the HSTF and Whole Foods deal with each, both organizations say.

Nelson Arroyo, the board president, manages the meat department of a Whole Foods in Woburn. He is not participating in any HSTF discussions about Whole Foods, and his job will “in absolutely no way” influence the organization’s strategy, said HSTF Executive Director Claudio Martinez.

Arroyo also played no role in Whole Foods’ $8,500 donation to the HSTF last month, according to Martinez and Whole Foods spokesperson Robin Rehfield. That donation was arranged long before Whole Foods announced the JP move, they said. But the idea came from another employee connection, Martinez said: The husband of an HSTF staff member works for Whole Foods and recommended applying for a donation.

Arroyo, a JP resident, did not return a Gazette phone call. He is also a member of the Boston Zoning Commission and a former chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC).

The HSTF, a youth-focused non-profit organization, has not taken a stance on Whole Foods’ move into JP. But its young members are discussing various Whole Foods issues—including youth jobs and “gentrification concerns”—and intend to meet with the corporation once a list of requests is drawn up, Martinez said.

“The Hyde Square Task Force has a pretty extensive history of dealing with potential conflicts of interest,” Martinez said. That includes the HSTF’s recent protests of public school closures that Martinez was approving in his role as a member of the Boston School Committee. Martinez stayed out of all HSTF organizing meetings on that topic, he said.

The recent Whole Foods donation to the HSTF was part of a regular program called 5% Day, where individual stores donate 5 percent of one day’s net sales to a community organization. HSTF applied for the donation and was approved by the Brighton and Fenway Whole Foods stores. The donation was decided on by local store managers before they knew that the corporation was expanding into JP, Rehfield said.

Critics of Whole Foods’ planned move into the former Hi-Lo building at 415 Centre St. have cited fears that the grocer will spark gentrification and push out lower-income and Latino residents. Arroyo’s stint at JPNC chair five years ago included participating in Hyde Square’s last large-scale real estate controversy about gentrification: the Blessed Sacrament Church redevelopment.

Arroyo was a strong supporter of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation’s development of affordable housing on that site, and blasted some critics of the project as motivated by racism and classism, as the Gazette reported at the time.

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