For over three decades, the Hyde Square Task Force has worked with young people to uplift and strengthen the community living in Boston's Latin Quarter. Young people working with the task force have engaged in a wide variety of projects while learning about community organizing and connecting with their diverse roots.
A group of the task force’s teen volunteers recently carried out an investigation that led to a discovery that startled them: they found that Stop & Shop is charging 18% more for groceries in a largely minority and working class area of Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, compared to the Stop & Shop in Dedham, a more affluent suburb.
GBH All Things Considered guest host Judie Yuill spoke with two teens who participated in the investigation, Derrick Medina and Emmanuel Vargas, along with staff member Ken Tangvik. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Yuill: Tell us more about the idea for the investigation. Where did that come from and how did you carry out all this work?
Medina: Well, our investigation started with the eighth graders at the Hyde Square Task Force. They started looking at prices at Stop & Shop, and what they found was shocking to them. So we, the youth organizers, took over this project to try to go into it deeper to find out what the root of the problem was. What we did to investigate it a little further was to go to different Stop & Shops - in this case, Dedham and Jamaica Plain - and we compared the prices. After that, we found out that there was an 18% difference in the price, in this case about $34. That's mostly how it started off.
Yuill: Why do you think this pricing discrepancy exists?
Vargas: We really want to know why this price difference exists, because it really is hurting a lot of the people in the Latin Quarter here in Jackson Square, where most people shop. The answer is that we'd like to find out, and that's why we're doing this investigation.
Yuill: Has Stop & Shop commented at all? Did you try to contact them?
Vargas: We did, in fact, try and get in contact with Stop & Shop. Pretty much to sum up their response: they told us that their information was proprietary and that they did not want to tell us anything.
Medina: Yes, their email definitely did sound very dismissive. After we got on the news and started getting the message out, they did comment on it and it was once again very dismissive.
Yuill: Do you have other options in terms of getting some answers?
Vargas: What we want to do is have as many people [as possible] know that this issue is occurring, because truthfully, we want Stop & Shop to make a change and it doesn't seem like they are interested in doing so, unfortunately.
Yuill: We know that some neighborhoods can be food deserts, and food costs have really skyrocketed in many cases. Do you have other options, other places to buy nutritious food?
Medina: In Jamaica Plain, to find places to buy healthy and affordable food, [you have to go a] little further away. The problem with that is, aside from being further away, is that they're also not affordable because Jamaica Plain is mostly a low-income community. That means that [people] are not going to have that much income to actually go to a supermarket that is far away and get nutritious food.
Yuill: So where does that leave people?
Medina: I think that definitely does leave people with the question of what to do, because they definitely do want to get the food that they need. They want it to be affordable and healthy. In order to find that healthy food, affordable prices, and also [have it be] close, that would be Stop & Shop. But them doing this, it's driving people to go further away to places and spend more money at those places.
Yuill: Ken, tell us about the response you've gotten from elected officials with this investigation and your queries.
Tangvik: The group has been very active ever since the Globe article came out. We have been contacted by some elected officials: our own city counselor, Kendra Lara, has a meeting with us [this] week and she's talking about having us present our findings to the Boston City Council. The attorney general's office actually also reached out to us on the day of the Globe article, and we will be meeting with a contingent from the AG's office this coming Tuesday.
Yuill: So you're definitely making progress.
Tangvik: Oh yeah.
Yuill: Derek and Emmanuel, what would be the best outcome from all this?
Medina: To have equity in Stop & Shops between Dedham and Jamaica Plain, because it's important to have affordable food and healthy food that's reachable.
Yuill: Do you think that's an achievable outcome?
Medina: I think it can be an achievable outcome.
Yuill: Can you tell us about some of the other projects that the Hyde Square Task Force has been involved in?
Vargas: The Hyde Square Task Force has been involved in a few different projects recently. Our most recent completed project was a mural at a nearby park in the Latin Quarter named Mozart Park. There's a lot of other things that we're actively working on as well.