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How Wisconsinites Are Helping Each Other During COVID-19 Shutdowns

Restrictions Get Stronger With Restaurant Shutdown, Ban On Gatherings Of More Than 10 People

A man holds open a restaurant door.
Nicholas Zabel, the owner of Dexter’s Pub in Madison, holds open the door for a customer on March 17, 2020. All restaurants in Wisconsin have been limited to takeout or delivery orders in an effort to limit the spread of the new coronavirus by limiting contact between people. Maureen McCollum/WPR

As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin rises, the more life seems to come to a standstill. Students aren’t in the classroom, businesses are shutting their doors, and gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people — all in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.

In response, some in Wisconsin are trying to help their employees and neighbors through the uncertainty.

Businesses Try To Keep Employees — And Themselves — Afloat

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Gov. Tony Evers directed the state Department of Health Services to order all restaurants to close on Tuesday, allowing only takeout or delivery.

RELATED: ‘I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It’: Wisconsin Hospitals Face Blood Shortage As Coronavirus Cuts Donations

Alchemy Café in Madison will now aim to share profits with staff as sit-down diners — and the tips they leave — disappear, said co-owner Michael Randall.

“The three owners at Alchemy all come from a service background, you know. That’s how we cut our teeth, as it were,” Randall said. “So we understand firsthand, if the tips go away, there isn’t much there.”

Randall said he isn’t sure if there will be any profits to share.

“I just hope that people in general realize that they can help small, independent businesses by spending their money in those businesses, and hopefully those businesses choose to do things that help their employees,” Randall said.

Nicholas Zabel, who owns Dexter’s Pub in Madison, said he’s planning to expand the pub but could dip into the construction fund to help employees out.

“This crew is awesome, so I don’t want them to worry about paying their bills,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Dexter’s was already doing takeout only. Zabel said the day felt “surreal,” but plenty of customers came to enjoy his corned beef and cabbage special for St. Patrick’s Day.

“Sometimes the worst brings out the best in people,” he said.

Making Sure There’s Enough To Eat

As more businesses shut down and workers lose income, some are worried about their neighbors going hungry.

Rae Kaiser is a Madison artist who, along with her husband and a neighbor, turned a Little Free Library on Morrison Street into a Little Free Food Pantry.

A little house-shaped box with a sign that says
The Little Free Library that neighbors turned into a food pantry on Morrison Street in Madison, to help people during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy of Rae Kaiser

Madison is full of Little Free Libraries — birdhouse-like boxes that stand outside parks or yards, serving as neighborhood book exchanges. Kaiser changed the sign on her neighborhood library and called for food donations on Facebook.

Now, since the little pantry began on Sunday, people have been taking the food, and donations are coming in steadily, Kaiser said.

“I went and got some extra food today so that I could keep filling it, but I didn’t have to, so it’s kind of self-sustaining at this point,” she said.

Organizations working to combat hunger include Madison’s Goodman Community Center, which posted on Facebook asking for donations to sustain its food pantry, which is now a drive-through.

Social Media Support

People around the state are also using social media to stay connected and offer support while businesses close and people become increasingly isolated.

The Above & Beyond Children’s Museum in Sheboygan is closed to the public but is posting virtual storytime videos on Youtube.

People in Chequamegon Bay communities formed a Facebook page to share information and offer help to people who can’t leave their homes during the outbreak, due to age or illness.

And for those Madison-area food service workers who have lost work due to the restaurant shutdown, there is the Madison Virtual Tip Jar, which allows people to send “tips” to workers through PayPal or Venmo.

As of Tuesday evening, over 400 people had entered their names and information in hopes of getting tips.

Editor’s Note: Maureen McCollum contributed reporting to this story.

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