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Joe Martinez raises money for hurricane victims, drives donations down himself

by Christine Wolkin

Last winter Joe Martinez moved to Ivyland from Houston to work on the construction of Guardian Training Center, the new firearms and self-defense training center in Warminster.

So, when Hurricane Harvey hit the city he’d lived in since 2010, he knew he had to do something for his friends and family down there.

When one of his clients from Texas asked Joe to build and deliver custom furniture for his business, Joe thought that since he would need to drive a truck to Texas to deliver the tables, he might as well ask his new neighbors if they would like to donate to those in need from the Hurricane.

“I said OK so I’m going to Houston I think it’d be a good idea if I put some sort of donation together,” said Joe.

Joe created a posting on the app, Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods. Through the app and word-of-mouth by friends and family, more than $5,000 in goods and monetary donations were dropped off to various homes and businesses in Ivyland and Washington Crossing over the course of just 10 days.

Joe said the overwhelming support from the families in the local Bucks County areas, specifically Washington Crossing, Richboro, Ivyland and Northampton Township, was appreciated and valued beyond measure.

“I want to thank everyone that donated their time and whatever they gave,” said Joe.

His friend Mike McMackin and Bob Fuchs picked up two pallets of bottled water to donate.

Chris Sfinas opened his business as a drop off point for donations. Family friend and Council Rock North Senior Gabriella Cobos and her family opened their house as a drop off point and collected many donated items, as did Juliette Punchello of Ivyland.

After 10 days of collecting and organizing items, Joe packed up a rented U-Haul and drove the 30 plus hours down to Texas.

Originally Joe had in mind to go to the community in Houston that was hit the hardest, but after doing his homework he decided to go with the Third Ward, an economically disadvantaged neighborhood with strong roots to the history of African-American freedom and ownership.

“I said look, we only have one truck so let’s go to the most needed place. We were trying to find that one spot that just reached out to us,” Joe said.

His search for that place led him to an underpass beneath a bridge where countless tents had been set up.

“We looked out under a bridge and we saw…I don’t know how many tents we saw,” said Joe. “I approached the first family and as I told them what I was going to do they started to whistle and to scream that a truck with water and goods had arrived for them. They started to run out of their tents towards the truck.”

Joe ticked off the items he’d brought. “We had coolers with iced waters, sandwiches and soft drinks. We had toiletry bags with personal items, hygiene items…we had countless clothes, boxes of shoes, pampers, wipes, feminine products. I only wished I had more to give.”

Joe used the money that was donated to buy food to make hundreds of sandwiches and provide ice-cold cans of soda. That first day Joe and his buddies spent a solid three hours under that bridge handing out food, water, and other items while listening to families and their stories.

“These families lost their homes and are currently living in tents underneath an overpass to protect them from the elements.

Their children are not in school, and they do not yet have resources available to rebuild, nor transportation to get to and from work, community centers, or other family for help,” said Juliette Punchello.

Joe made sure that every piece of clothing, toothbrush, canned good, backpack, coloring book, pack of diapers, women’s product, pet supplies and water was handed to a family in need.

Joe, who founded a nonprofit in Houston with his sisters several years ago called “I Am Always Hungry,” was touched by the generosity of his new neighbors in Bucks County, who gave so willingly to people outside of their own hometown.

“The response was great. Thank you so much,” he said.

Joe is spending the next several weeks down in Houston rebuilding homes and businesses impacted by the hurricane, as well as continuing to distribute donations, before heading back up to Pennsylvania. Throughout the next several months, Joe plans on making several more trips down as donations continue pouring in.

If anyone is interested in donating to Hurricane Harvey victims, visit Joe’s Go Fund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/9fkcn-harvey-relief-efforts.

PHOTO CAP: Joe Martinez with some of the supplies he delivered to Houston.