For South Jersey survivalist, 40 years of stockpiling finally pays off - in Puerto Rico

South Jersey survivalist Joe Badame of Medford donates his stockpiled supplies to aid the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

For 40 years, Joseph Badame stored 70 barrels of food in the basement of his Medford, N.J., home, waiting for the day he would need the supplies. That day came in a most unexpected way.

The flour, rice, salt, and other goods will be headed to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday after Badame, 74, a self-described survivalist, met a young couple with a food truck and family wiped out by Hurricane Maria who came to cater his large estate sale last weekend before the bank foreclosed on his property.

Camera icon Avalon R. Zoppo
Victoria Martinez-Barber and her husband, Anthony Barber, flank Joseph Badame outside the Barbers’ house in Medford, N.J. The couple and Badame are raising money to assist storm victims in Puerto Rico.

“This is a man who is losing his house. Yet he’s still giving,” said Victoria Martinez-Barber, co-owner of Tony & Tori’s Grille, who said her grandmother, aunts, cousins, and other family members in Puerto Rico are suffering. They are sharing bread and are without electricity. Her grandmother’s seven cats have died.

Back in Burlington County, the story of generosity and friendship began when Martinez-Barber and her husband, Anthony, got a call from the business running Badame’s estate sale last weekend. Would the couple want to cater the event?

Martinez-Barber had only sporadic contact with her relatives since Maria touched down Sept. 20. She already had been planning on sending supplies to her family. The estate sale would bring in money to do so.

Then they met Badame at the sale and told him of her family’s hardships.

His response shocked the couple.

Joseph Badame helps serve food at the Barbers’ lunch truck during a fund-raiser at the Barbers’ Medford home on Sept. 29, 2017.

Badame first donated $100 and then led them down to his basement, where he had 70 barrels of flour, rice, salt, and other supplies stored for 40 years. The barrels, he told them, were theirs for the taking —  provided they could lug them up a flight of stairs. One container can feed 84 people for four months, Martinez-Barber said.

“That’s when my mission began to not just reach my family, but to feed the town that was devastated,” she said.

After the estate sale, Martinez-Barber began raising financial donations through her food truck in order to ship the supplies. Over the last two days, with the food truck parked outside her Medford home, she and her husband have raised more than $5,000. Badame’s stash of goods, now stored at her home, will be shipped to Puerto Rico by a private company.

And the 30-year-old mother of three says none of it would be possible without Badame.

Camera icon ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Victoria Martinez-Barber (left) and her grandmother Asteria Mercedes Morales, in a family photo taken Sept. 4, 2017, before Hurricane Maria devastated the island and the town where Morales lives.

The retired architect and urban planner built his survival-style home with his wife, Phyllis, following a two-year trip to Tunisia with the Peace Corps. Upon his return to South Jersey, he saw the aftermath of Camden’s 1971 riots, Badame said. The scene prompted him to prepare for the worst.

“We got a call from Phyllis’ two sisters and their houses had been burned down,” he said. “We said ‘We really don’t feel safe here’ and bought property as far out as we could afford and started building the house.”

The couple warned others to prepare as well, but Badame said nobody listened. To be safe, him and his wife built a home that could accommodate 120 friends and family members.

Badame’s 8,500-square-foot home includes a bomb shelter, a food room, bunks, and three generators.

The dream home and life the Badames built together began unraveling in 2005, when Phyllis suffered a major stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body. Doctors told Joseph Badame, who quit work to care for her, that his wife would not live more than a year. She lived eight more years, and Badame had to take out a $500,000 loan for medical expenses.

In 2013, Phyllis died and Joseph ran out of money. The foreclosure process on the couple’s home began four months ago.

But Badame now has a new home, at least temporarily, and new neighbors – Anthony Barber, Victoria Martinez-Barber, and the couple’s young children.

Martinez-Barber offered a spot on her lawn for Badame to indefinitely park his brown and white RV while he looks for a new place to live.

The two, she says, share a special connection.

“He didn’t have kids and my dad died when I was young, so it works,” she said. “I’ve only known this guy for a week, but I feel like he’s been in my life forever.”