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Jordan High culinary students make meals for uprooted McDougald Terrace residents

Posted January 24, 2020 5:45 p.m. EST

— Friday marked the beginning of the fourth week of living out of a hotel room for many McDougald Terrace residents, and with no end in sight on those hotel stays, students at Durham's Jordan High School came up with a creative way to help residents.

More than a dozen McDougald Terrace residents have been sent to area hospitals since late November with elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

About 280 of the 300-plus families who live in the complex have been staying at a dozen area hotels since early January so work crews could thoroughly check the gas-powered furnaces, water heaters and ovens in the units.

Contractors are expected to start making repairs to the apartments on Monday, including replacing gas stoves with electric ones, updating the electrical systems and redoing the gas venting systems.

It's unclear how long those repairs will take, and Durham Housing Authority officials said residents will have to remain in hotels for at least two more weeks.

Molly Furman, a Jordan High junior, said she was at home thinking about what the McDougald Terrace residents are going through and figured she and her classmates in the school's culinary arts program could help out by doing what they do best.

The class usually cooks for school events and banquets, but on Friday, they made 600 meals for McDougald Terrace residents.

"I hope that the meals will show residents that they have a community that is here and they want to support them," Furman said. "Even though it’s just a salad and chicken tenders, I think food can say a lot about something. I hope that this brings them some comfort and some peace."

The meals were made possible through a partnership with Zweli's restaurant. Volunteers delivered them to the various hotels where the residents are staying.

Life away from home is something some of these students have personally experienced.

"A lot of my students are refugees or immigrants from other countries," said chef Andrew Somers, who created the school's culinary arts program. "They’re very enthusiastic because they know what it’s like to have nothing."

"I just hope that they feel a little taste of home," Jordan High junior Mercy Whipple said. "I know it’s hard not having their own homes to have a home-cooked meal in, so it’s cool for us to share that experience with them."

"It grounds us all – a home-cooked meal," Somers said.

"I think the impact that this is going to make is a lot more special than the food that we usually do," Furman said.

Congressman pushing for HUD funds

The Durham Housing Authority is spending about $500,000 a week for the hotel rooms and food and other items for the McDougald Terrace residents, and the agency will spend millions more of repairs to the complex.

DHA leaders have been quick to point to funding challenges as a big reason for old, decaying public housing complexes with carbon monoxide and mold issues.

Congressman David Price chairs the Housing Appropriation Committee and has been in constant contact with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the DHA over what he considers an "emergency situation."

"This is an indication of the state of public housing in too many places," said Price, whose 4th Congressional District includes McDougald Terrace. "For years now, the maintenance of public housing has been underfunded."

DHA has been forced to dip into the capital fund for all of its complexes to pay for the ongoing situation at McDougald Terrace. Price said he expects HUD will reimburse the agency.

"The funds we need to take care of this emergency situation, one way or another, we're going to find it," he said. "What I hope we can do is get some additional federal reimbursement for this so that this doesn't take away from the housing authority's other needs."

DHA officials said Friday that McDougald Terrace residents won't have to pay rent for February, regardless of when they return to their apartments. They also were allowed to skip January rent payments. Also, DHA has stopped filing eviction notices at all of its complexes for non-payment of January rent.

If there is a positive effect from the situation, Price said, he hopes it shines a light on the need to address public housing and affordable housing nationwide.

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