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.”

US jobless claims jump to 853,000 amid resurgence of virus

By CHRISTOPHER RUGABER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people applying for unemployment aid jumped last week to 853,000, the most since September, evidence that companies are cutting more jobs as new virus cases spiral higher.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of applications increased from 716,000 the previous week. Before the coronavirus paralyzed the economy in March, weekly jobless claims typically numbered only about 225,000.

The latest figures coincide with a surging viral outbreak that appears to be weakening the job market and the economy and threatening to derail any recovery. Consumers thus far haven’t spent as much this holiday shopping season as they have in previous years, according to credit and debit card data. And in November, employers added jobs at the slowest pace since April. Restaurants, bars and retailers all cut jobs last month.

The total number of people who are receiving state-provided unemployment aid rose for the first time in three months to 5.8 million, the government said, from 5.5 million. That suggests that some companies have sharply pulled back on hiring.

All told, more than 19 million people are still dependent on some type of unemployment benefit. And unless Congress acts soon, nearly half of them will lose that aid in just over two weeks. That’s when two jobless aid programs that the federal government created in the spring are set to expire.

The first program provides unemployment benefits to the self-employed and contract workers, who weren’t eligible in the past. The second program is the one that extends jobless aid for 13 weeks.

Members of Congress and the Trump administration are fighting over a roughly $900 billion relief package that could extend the two programs into the spring, sparing about 9 million unemployed Americans from what would otherwise be deeper financial distress.

A bipartisan group of senators has proposed to extend the supplemental aid for four months and add $300-a-week in federal jobless aid. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday proposed a one-time round of $600 relief checks — half the $1,200 that was provided in the spring. But Mnuchin’s proposal includes no funding for supplemental unemployment aid payments, drawing sharp objections from Democrats in Congress.

With a coronavirus vaccine nearing approval, many economists are optimistic that the economy will rebound strongly next year. But most favor another federal financial relief package to support unemployed workers, small businesses, and state and local governments until then.

New confirmed virus cases are now topping 200,000 a day, up from only about 30,000 in the spring. And the average number of deaths each day in the past seven days has surpassed 2,000, roughly matching its peak in April.

The virus’ acceleration has led many governors to impose stricter curbs on restaurants, gyms and other business activity in states from North Carolina to California and Washington state.

The pandemic appears to have also sharply restricted holiday spending, in part because of stay-at-home orders and other restrictions and in part because many consumers are reluctant to go out shopping. A jump in online shopping hasn’t fully offset a steep decline, compared with last year, in spending at physical stores.

According to data from Opportunity Insights, a research center affiliated with Harvard and Brown universities, spending on debit and credit cards sank nearly 12% in the week that ended Nov. 29 compared with a year earlier. That marked a sharp drop from the previous week, when such spending was down just 2.3% from 12 months earlier.

The steady stream of layoffs across the country has intensified the financial hardships for many Americans.

One of the jobless, Montrell McGraw, says he just had to cancel his car insurance and now can’t drive because his unemployment benefit of just $225 a week isn’t enough to keep up with the payments. He was able to cover all his bills when the federal government provided an extra $600 in jobless aid. But that ended in July.

McGraw, 26, lost his job as a cook at a Hilton Hotel in New Orleans, where he lives, back in March just after the virus erupted in the United States. He says he’s applied for 35 jobs without any luck. His primary work experience is in restaurants, few of which are hiring.

Most of the available jobs he sees involve trucking or work on offshore oil rigs, which require certifications he can’t afford to obtain. McGraw has also worked with an advocacy group, Stand Up Louisiana, in support of extending jobless benefits.

“I didn’t ask for this — no one asked for this pandemic,” he said. “I am trying to play the cards I am dealt with, and I have a really bad hand.”

Austrian village of ‘F*cking’ decides to change its name

By Elliot Douglas, Deutsche Welle (DW)

The long-suffering residents of the small Austrian village of F*cking have confirmed that, from January 1, the town will be known as Fugging. Fans of unusual place-names will mourn the loss.

The small Austrian village of F*cking will get rid of the unfortunate name that has seen a brisk tourism trade and frequent thefts of the town sign, the town council announced Thursday.

Mayor Andrea Holzner told Austrian broadcaster Oe24 that the name would be changed to Fugging from January 1, 2021.

The small community in Upper Austria of around 100 people has been pushing for a name change for years, the German Press Agency reported. The name of the town, which lies north of Salzburg near the German border, has no meaning in German.

Locals have grown frustrated by the thefts of the town signs by tourists and of people photographing the sign.

Activists use ‘F*cking’ for good

The small village largely escaped the notice of the wider world until the birth of the internet, when it was frequently included on lists of the funniest or most explicit place names.

Last year, some local residents used the unusual name to help in their activism, for example, by putting signs above and below the sign to read message like “Our climate is — F*cking — important!”

Fugging apparently better reflects the pronunciation of the town by locals. It is unclear what will happen to the current town signs.

No news has yet emerged about possible name changes to the nearby hamlets of Oberf*cking and Unterf*cking.

The town has been known as F*cking for around 1,000 years.

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.