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HELPING OUT: Rochester community bands together amid virus crisis

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- With the COVID-19 outbreak, there's a lot of uncertainty. The global pandemic unfolds and shifts between the hour -- and sometimes the minute.

"We are in a time of great uncertainty, I think," Victoria's Ristorante & Wine Bar co-owner Natalie Victoria said.

A lot of uncertainly, but a lot of help for those who need it.

"A lot of kids in the community eat one meal a day and we wanted to do something about about that," Victoria said.

Over at Victoria's Ristorante, that help is coming through hot meals -- no questions asked. The restaurant put up a post Sunday, offering free food to kids who needed it. By Monday night, the post had more than 2,500 shares. Victoria says the community response has been incredible.

Victoria's Ristorante & Wine Bar made the offer via Facebook Sunday -- shortly after Gov. Tim Walz made the order for schools to close.

"I think that's really awesome that they offer that," Madilyn Eichelberger said while eating her lasagna.

"We have had over 700 dollars in donations from the community already," Victoria said. "We are looking for some organizations that can be a middle man to get food in the right places."

Monday night, after KTTC spoke with Victoria, things took another turn. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced a new order to stop the spread of COVID-19, banning dining in at restaurants and bars by Tuesday night.

"A week ago today, it was a different story...we don't know the future," Victoria said.

Just down the street, a busy scene of collectors stockpiling at the Rochester Public Library.

One couple, filling seven totes full.

"We filled them up, and then some," Kelsey Metzger said.

"It's been pretty crazy today," Head of Marketing Community Engagement Karen Lemke said.

News upon the library closing on Wednesday along with the RPS district, 1,500 items were put on hold between Sunday night and Monday. While the library doesn't keep records of that, Lemke says that anecdotally that's the highest number its had. Library leaders extended check out quantities and due dates.

Rochester residents carry out bags and piles of books late Monday afternoon.

"If you have items you don't need to bring them back. Just keep them," Lemke said. "We've extended due dates until April 30th."

"I heard a woman checking out books and she said she would rather have books than toilet paper, if she were to run out of something it better be toilet paper," Pam Whitfield said, walking out with her own pile of new reads. "And I feel the same way."

RPL says while its doors will be closed starting Wednesday, staff will still be there and all its online services will be available.

"Books really provide people with that escape that they are looking for right now," Lemke said. "Movies provide that escape, audio books, we want to provide that."

Another effort to keep young minds sharp over an ominous school closing; a laptop collection, to help prepare for distance learning.

"We are just starting the collection process," Rochester Public Schools teacher John Bartucz said.

The Rochester Area Youth Tech Foundation is working to provide laptops to students who do not currently have access to technology at home.

"So many of the classes are online and even before the outbreak happened, its really hard for kids to do homework without a laptop," Bartucz said.

While its a program that's been around for 18 months, Bartucz hopes to collect 250 more laptops to help students achieve distance learning. Donations can be dropped off at the RPS Edison Building or the Rochester Downtown Alliance, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bartucz is looking for computers from the year 2000 or later. He also asks that the computers are in relatively good condition and have a power cord, and that they are wiped down.

"A lot of people are stepping up when the community needs them," Bartucz said. "Its really great to see a lot of people doing what they can with the resources that they have."

How are you helping your community? Let us know at

Beret Leone

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