Shut down by corona, Berlin restaurant opens for homeless

By BY KIRSTEN GRIESHABER, Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made life on the streets of Berlin any easier for Kaspars Breidaks.

For three months, the 43-year-old Latvian has faced homeless shelters operating at reduced capacity so that people can be kept at a safe distance from one another. And with fewer Berliners going outdoors, it’s much harder to raise money by panhandling or collecting bottles to sell for recycling.

But on a chilly winter morning this week Breidaks found himself with a free hot meal and a place to warm up, after the German capital’s biggest restaurant, the Hofbraeu Berlin — itself closed down due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions — shifted gears to help the homeless.

“Other homeless people at the train station told me about this place,” Breidaks said, removing a furry black hat with long ear flaps as he sat on a bench in the warm, spacious beer hall near Berlin’s landmark Alexanderplatz square. “I came here for hot soup.”

It was a restaurant employee who volunteers at a shelter who proposed opening up the shuttered Bavarian-style beer hall — patterned after the famous Munich establishment of the same name — to the homeless.

It was a clear win-win proposition, said Hofbraeu manager Bjoern Schwarz. As well as helping out the homeless during tough times the city-funded project also gives needed work to employees — and provides the restaurant with welcome income.

In cooperation with the city and two welfare organizations, the restaurant quickly developed a concept to take in up to 150 homeless people in two shifts every day until the end of the winter, and started serving meals on Tuesday.

It’s only a small number compared with the 3,000 restaurant guests, primarily tourists, who would pack the establishment during good times. But the spacious halls have proved perfectly suited to bring in the homeless and give them each plenty of space to avoid infections.

“Normally, during Christmas time, we would have many groups here for Christmas parties and then we’d serve pork knuckles, half a duck or goose … but not at the moment,” said Schwarz. “We’re still doing delivery, but obviously that’s only a drop in the bucket.”

In addition to serving food and non-alcoholic drinks and offering the warmth of indoors, the restaurant provides its bathrooms for the homeless to wash up, and the GEBEWO and Berlin Kaeltehilfe relief groups have workers on hand to provide counseling and new clothes, if needed.

For its new clientele, the restaurant opened a second-floor, wooden-decorated hall, and put up 40 long tables.

“We’ll offer them something different from the regular soup kitchen food — real dishes on porcelain plates, with different sides, we’ll try to offer Christmas-style dishes with lot of flavors,” Schwarz said.

Breidaks came to Germany three months ago looking for work. But he says a promised meat factory job never materialized and he ended up on the streets of Berlin begging for the money needed to replace a stolen passport and buy a bus ticket back home.

He’s one of an estimated 2,000 to 12,000 people who remain homeless in this city of 3.6 million, even after another 34,000 were put up in community shelters, hostels and apartments by social services and private welfare groups.

“The corona pandemic has seriously worsened the situation for homeless people, they live in very precarious conditions,” said Elke Breitenbach, the Berlin state government’s senator for social issues, whose department supports the restaurant-turned-shelter financially.

“They don’t have enough to eat and when it’s cold they must have places to warm up,” Breitenbach added.

On Thursday, the first shivering group that entered the Hofbraeu along with Breidaks were served either Thuringia-style bratwurst with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and onion sauce, or a vegetarian stew with potatoes, zucchini, bell pepper and carrots. For dessert there was apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

For Breidaks, that was more than he had expected after spending a night with sub-zero temperatures huddled up next to the walls of a big department store on Alexanderplatz.

“All I need is hot soup,” he said. “And, God willing, I will go back home in January.”

Lawyers group presents scammed 9/11 NYPD hero with $400,000 check after $1 million theft by his friend

By Larry McShane, NY Daily News

A 9/11 hero NYPD officer, scammed out of a $1 million compensation fund check by a friend and fellow cop, received a welcome bit of holiday payback from a state lawyers’ group.

Cancer survivor John Ferreyra, who fell ill after working on the toxic pile at Ground Zero after the 2001 World Trade Center attack, was presented Thursday with a $400,000 check by the New York State Lawyers Fund. He was victimized by a former NYPD pal turned attorney — with the scammer now facing up to 10 years in prison at his Feb. 5 sentencing.

“I am both humbled and grateful to finally receive (nearly) half of the award that was given to me for my disabling 9/11 illness,” said Ferreyra, diagnosed in in 2005 with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. “It is my hope that no other member of the 9/11 community, or anybody else, ever has to experience what my family and I went through.”

Left to right: 9/11 survivors advocate John Feal, attorney Michael Barash, Lisa Ferreyra and her husband John Ferreyra. (Obtained by Daily News)

The lawyers’ fund provides financial assistance for clients victimized by unscrupulous attorneys like Gustavo Vila, who pleaded guilty to stealing 90% of his friend’s payout from the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. The lawyer and Ferreyra became close when Vila was working his way up through the NYPD ranks, eventually becoming a lieutenant and advisor to Police Commissioner William Bratton.

Vila, 62, admitted pocketing all but $100,000 of Ferreyra’s $1 million payout, using the cash to pay his taxes and write checks to his family worth nearly $300,000. It was later discovered that Vila was actually disbarred for a grand larceny conviction in 2015 — the year before the check to his old friend arrived.

Ferreyra endured incessant rounds of treatment, running the gamut from multiple surgeries to chemotherapy, from radiation to a stem cell transplant, in the years after he was diagnosed. The father of two girls said his longtime friend continued lying to him until this past January and never offered an apology for the cruel scam.

Vila pleaded guilty in White Plains Federal Court in October, four years after his friend’s check from the 9/11 fund arrived and seven years after he took on Ferreyra’s case.

“It’s inexcusable to steal from anyone, but to target and prey upon a 9/11 hero in this way is a despicable betrayal not of just John Ferreyra but of all those who have sacrificed their health and lives working to rebuild following the attacks,” said 9/11 survivors advocate John Feal.

Feal presented the $400,00 check to Ferreyra along with the victim’s attorney Michael Barash, whose firm has represented thousands of first responders.

“I could simply not stand by when I heard John’s devastating story, realizing he was being victimized again,” said Barash. “This was a betrayal of trust, plain and simple.”

Over 900 cars paid for each other’s meals at a Dairy Queen drive-thru in Minnesota

By Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN 

(CNN) — What started as a random act of kindness from one man paying for the car behind him in a Dairy Queen drive-thru resulted in over 900 cars also taking part in the pay it forward chain.

There’s no question about it: This year has been tough for so many. Some, fighting battles we may know nothing about. But at a drive-thru in Brainerd, Minnesota, over 100 miles north of Minneapolis, people stepped up in a small way to show one another that they care.

Tina Jensen, the store manager at one of the two Dairy Queens in town, told CNN a man came by the drive-thru window on Thursday and asked if he could pay for his meal and for the car behind him.

Jensen told her cashier this tends to happen once in a while but at most it lasts for 15 or 20 cars and fizzles out.

This time, the chain continued for two and a half days with over 900 cars participating, raking in $10,000 in sales, according to Jensen.

When the next customer came to the fast food chain’s window, Jensen explained what the man in front of them had done — and the acts of kindness continued to multiply.

“The health benefits of a random act of kindness”

“There’s all different types of ways to help people,” Jensen said. “I think this touched a lot of people that we didn’t even know it touched, deeper than we know. And you don’t know what’s going on in a person’s life.”

When the chain closed for the night Thursday, one car left $10 to begin the chain back up Friday morning and again on Saturday morning. Jensen provided updates on the number of cars at each day’s end on the store’s Facebook page.

Heidi Bruse experienced that act of kindness on Friday evening during a dinner run, she told CNN.

“During times like these it kinda restores your faith in humanity a little,” Bruse said. “The way the world is now you see a lot of anger, tension, and selfish behavior. What we witnessed was pure kindness and it was a breath of fresh air really.”

But that wasn’t even the best part. For Bruse, it was going home to tell her family that they played a role in the chain and kept it going.

“Not that we got free ice cream,” she said. “The gesture was way more valuable.”

Like so many others in the restaurant industry, the restaurant has faced some challenges adapting to new business practices during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Faced with having to close my restaurant, I was given a great gift”

“With the lobby shutting down, being only open for take out, being able to open for half your capacity, different things like that,” have played a role in trying to keep morale high, Jensen said. Her top priority is the safety of her customers and crew with increased disinfecting and cleaning measures, she said.

Seeing how positive her staff became with every passing car paying it forward, married to the reactions of her customers when the cashier told them their meal had been taken care of, was touching, Jensen said.

“No matter what’s going on, take care of each other, be positive, be happy and don’t focus on the negative, we’ll get through it,” she said.

Help the Idaho Food Bank feed 2,300 seniors through the Great Idaho Food Drive

by BOISE, Idaho – CBS2 News Staff

Food insecurity is a major problem for people all across our state.

Medicine, food or paying bills. Every day, many seniors in Idaho have to decide where their money will go.

The numbers are staggering. The Idaho Food Bank provided more than 25,000 food boxes to seniors last year. It will be much higher this year.

Each food box had more than 30 pounds of food. Let’s put this a different way.

Almost 2,300 seniors rely on the Idaho Food Bank each month. Without that food, they may not be able to pay medical bills, keep the lights on paying their rent or mortgage.

The Idaho Food Bank says healthy food donations are critical for seniors as many have strict dietary needs.

We want to thank all of our partners.

You can drop off food at any Les Schwab, Bi-Mark or at the CBS2 studios in downtown Boise.

If you’d rather stay online but still want to help, you can help with a monetary donation HERE.

Every dollar you give pays for up to five meals for hungry people in our community.

Here are the items the Idaho Food Bank is looking for:

  • Canned vegetables
  • Fruits canned in juice or extra light syrup
  • 100% fruit and/ or vegetable juices
  • Tomato products and pasta sauces
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Regular or instant brown rice
  • Plain oats/oatmeal
  • Whole grain cereals with low sugar
  • Canola or other cooking oils
  • Whole wheat or all-purpose flour
  • Baking powder and baking soda
  • Dried herbs and spices
  • Sugar
  • Canned or dried beans and peas
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Canned meats and fish (low sodium)
  • Canned meals(soup, stew, chili, etc.)
  • Peanut or other nut butters

These items must be boxed, canned, or dehydrated so they are shelf-stable.

  • Non-fat or low-fat milk
  • Milk alternatives (rice, soy, almond)
  • Toilet paper
  • Diapers
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Soap and Shampoo
  • Deodorant

Thank you for supporting the CBS2 Great Idaho Food Drive!

Man, 81, uses antique shillelagh to chase ruse burglars from Niles home: ‘I was trying to find some type of persuasive weapon’

By JENNIFER JOHNSON, Pioneer Press / Chicago Tribune

When intruders targeted Dan and Barbara Donovan’s Niles home earlier this month, they picked the wrong couple to burglarize.

Instead of fleeing the modest brick house with valuables, the three men ran in fear as Dan, 81, chased them out the door with an antique shillelagh, a wooden Irish walking stick that once belonged to his grandfather.

“I hit the one guy on the back of his head,” Donovan, a former Marine, recalled. “I’m certain he had a headache.”

It was late afternoon on Nov. 4 when the couple, 50-year residents of Niles, heard a knock at their door and found a man wearing a reflective vest and a face mask standing outside. The visitor, who was carrying what appeared to be tools, said he was there to check their “fuse box” due a recent fire in the area.

Barbara Donovan said the visit did not immediately seem unusual.

“We had received a letter from the electric company the day before,” Donovan said, explaining that the letter indicated work would be taking place in their area and would include power outages. “So when he said he was with the electric company, we let him in.”

What the couple didn’t immediately realize was that the man wasn’t a utility worker — and he wasn’t alone. As he led the couple into the basement of their home, two additional people sneaked inside through the now unlocked door.

Downstairs, Barbara Donovan began to feel suspicious about the man who was looking over her electric circuit panel.

“I kept backing up and he kept saying, ‘Come over by me,’” Barbara said. “He said, ‘If you’re home alone, you won’t know what to do,’ and kept telling me to come closer to him. I thought that was kind of weird.”

Dan Donovan holds the shillelagh, an Irish walking stick, that he used to chase intruders from his Niles home on Nov. 4.

Dan Donovan holds the shillelagh, an Irish walking stick, that he used to chase intruders from his Niles home on Nov. 4. (Jennifer Johnson / Pioneer Press)

Suddenly, Barbara heard the squeak of floorboards above her head.

“I yelled, ‘Danny! Somebody’s in our bedroom!” she said.

Barbara bounded up the steps, followed by her husband and the so-called utility worker. When they reached the main floor, the Donovans discovered there were more than just the three of them inside.

“I started chasing them to get them out of my house,” Dan Donovan said.

That’s when he grabbed his grandfather’s shillelagh, which was propped up in the corner of the couple’s dining room.

“I was trying to find some type of persuasive weapon,” Donovan said. “So I picked up the Irish shillelagh and that turned out to be the equalizer because I managed to chase them out of the house.”

One of the men was carrying what Donovan recognized to be a pillowcase from bedroom. Shouting and swinging the shillelagh, Dan Donovan said he struck the man in the back of the head with the end of the walking stick, but he didn’t drop the pillowcase. He followed his partners in crime outside, but Donovan continued his pursuit. Barefoot, he approached the SUV they had parked in his driveway and began hitting it with the walking stick.

“I managed to get a good swing at the windshield and the rear window,” he said. “I think I cracked them both.”

In the meantime, Barbara Donovan said she was on the phone to police, who arrived shortly after the intruders fled the scene.

In all the excitement, and due to the darkening skies, Donovan acknowledged he was unable to get the license plate number or the make and model of the SUV.

Niles police, in their report of the incident, categorized what happened to the Donovans as a “ruse entry,” a common scam in which thieves, posing as utility workers, landscapers, other types of workers or neighbors, approach a home and lure the residents outside or into another part of the house while their partners sneak in and search for jewelry, cash and other small valuables.

The Donovans say they still aren’t quite sure what, if anything, the burglars stole, but they do know their pillowcase was taken and their bedroom drawers had been removed and rummaged through.

“They just scared the heck out of us,” Barbara said.

The couple acknowledged they feel somewhat chagrined that they didn’t catch on right away that they were victims of a scammer. Even their children, they say, ask them why they let the first man inside. Barbara points to the letter they received the day earlier from ComEd, though she now wonders if that, too, was part of the scam.

For his part, Dan Donovan praises his wife for quickly catching on to what the scammers were up to. The incident has taught him to be more alert, he said, and he urges others to do the same.

And while he doesn’t consider himself a hero, Barbara does.

“I felt a lot better when I saw him with the shillelagh because he was chasing them out of the house,” she said.

“Hopefully they got nothing more than a headache and hopefully they pursue another occupation,” Dan Donovan said.