NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A Norfolk pastor is accused of failing to pay back two businesses in a feeding program for disadvantaged children. Now 10 On Your Side has learned the city of Norfolk itself may be wrapped up in the mess.
The only reason Pastor Serena Harris was able to handout dinners in Norfolk community centers was because the city allowed her to. One business owner, to whom Harris still owes thousands, said that makes Norfolk equally responsible.
“I feel both of them are at fault,” said Sherrey McGill, who once owned Sherrey’s Kitchen before it had to shut down. She blames Norfolk and Pastor Harris for entering into an agreement that cost her tens of thousands of dollars. “It does shock me,” she said.
Norfolk signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Harris to provide snacks at city-owned community centers on September 23. One of the stipulations of the agreement is that Harris must “ensure that the program in its current operation receives USDA funds.” However, WAVY.com learned Harris never had USDA funds, which would come from the Virginia Department of Health.
“I can tell you Ms. Harris on September 23 was not receiving funds from us,” said Conchetta Yonaitis, who is the Special Nutrition Programs Manager at the Virginia Department of Health and handled Pastor Harris’s application for funds.
Harris was receiving no USDA funds when she signed the MOU with Norfolk on September 23, and she did not send in her application to Yonaitis until September 27.
“I would think entering into an agreement, you would want to see the documentation,” Yonaitis said. “There are several concerns with the application.”
Norfolk’s Director of Recreation, Parks & Open Space Darrell Crittendon signed the MOU for the city. He apparently never confirmed whether Harris had funding before signing the MOU. 10 On Your Side went looking for Crittendon at his office, but we were told he was not there because he is on annual leave.
City Spokesperson Lori Crouch emailed us: “The MOU clearly states ensuring the program in its current operation receives USDA funds is the responsibility of Holy Temple, not the Department of Recreation, Parks and Open Space.”
The question is — is Pastor Harris supposed to ensure the funding, or is Norfolk responsible for ensuring she has it? Sherrey McGill said Norfolk should be ensuring that their partners have funding. Had Crittendon done that, he could have saved Sherrey thousands of dollars.
“If they hadn’t signed that, she could have come back to me and said ‘don’t prepare anymore meals,'” McGill said.
By the way, McGill was delivering meals on September 16, a full seven days before the MOU was even signed with Norfolk.
Pastor Harris was operating the program on city property with the blessing of Norfolk. This case raises an important question: does Norfolk need to do a better job knowing who their partners are?