CHICAGO (CBS) – Some people in Chicago started the New Year with a lavish dinner at a famous Chicago steakhouse, but they weren’t ordinary diners. Many are homeless, some battling drug addiction or mental illness.
CBS 2′s Jim Williams reports on an annual tradition that has been growing, thanks to a restaurant with a lot of heart.
On any other day, eating at Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse on Rush Street would be impossible for Melvin Bridgeman.
“I lost my job as a truck driver, and stayed out on the street for about 10 years,” he said.
Bridgeman is a Vietnam-era veteran.
Gibsons managing partner John Colletti said, “You just can’t, in life, go through and just take, take, take. You’ve got to give back.”
It is a New Year’s Day tradition at Gibsons — and its sister restaurant, Hugo’s Frog Bar – to serve a delicious free meal, and provide gifts for Catholic Charities’ clients, many who live in shelters.
Catholic Charities president and CEO, Msgr. Michael Boland, said “it just gives them a shot in the arm that people actually think about them, care about the them, and want them to celebrate a New Year. So it’s really a wonderful gift.”
When the annual luncheon started several years ago, 150 people were served.
This year, nearly 500 were at the luncheon.
Boland said the economy is not improving for the working poor.
“It’s a very humbling thing for the families to live in shelters at this moment in their life,” he said.
For Bridgeman, the act of generosity goes a long way.
“I really appreciate this, because I know this place spends a lot of money and a lot of time into showing the appreciation for our service,” he said.
Bridgeman was one of many military veterans at the luncheon at Gibsons on Tuesday.
Catholic Charities said it’s especially grateful for Gibsons’ generosity, because it has seen a drop in donations in the weak economy, and the state of Illinois owes Catholic Charities $38 million for various programs it runs.