Taking the produce to the people: Midstate charity rethinks farmer’s market

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A Dauphin County food charity is experimenting with a new way to get healthy food options to people who might not get them otherwise.

Volunteers on Friday loaded up and shipped out.

“Bananas. What do you got today?” Mike Macchioni asked the co-owner of Kenny Stehr and Sons Farm at the market in the Farm Show Complex parking lot.

It was the start of the search for the perfect produce. “Cauliflower, that went really well last time. What do you got?”

Macchioni is up for the task.

“We want a variety of things,” he said. “Today we’re buying for soup kitchens and food banks and shelters, so it’ll be a mix.”

“It’s just nice to know that there’s a lot of good people out there yet,” Brett Stehr said.

This is a new venture for Macchioni and his Hershey-based nonprofit Gemma’s Angels. Volunteers loaded about 1,500 pounds of produce from one farmer’s market onto shelves installed in a small bus they recently bought.

“This has been our dream for years to be able to do something like this,” Macchioni said.

With donations and $20,000 in gaming grant money from Dauphin County, the mobile farmers market is road-worthy. Friday marked its first trip to people who need produce.

First stop: the Grantville food pantry.

“This is home delivery,” Corinne DeRita, who’s on the pantry’s board, said with a laugh. “It’s fresh and nice and it’s a big help to the community.”

The bus works just like a supermarket, where those in need pick what they want off the shelves; but unlike the supermarket, all of this produce is free of charge.

“We are going to eat healthy this weekend,” Joanne Vedder laughed as she picked a large cauliflower from the lowest shelf.

She didn’t hesitate at the opportunity.

“I’m grateful,” she said. “I’m totally grateful. This is… I can’t even express. Good healthy food to take home for my kids, my husband and myself to eat. This is totally awesome.”

Stop two, Palmyra, Lebanon County, at the Caring Cupboard food bank.

“Roadside stand, most of this stuff is like two, three dollars, four dollars,” Kevin Martin said, picking out veggies with his family.

That’s something Macchioni understands all too well. “I was just 7 years old when my father died and left my mother,” he said. With five kids under the age of 16 in the house at the time, he knows the choice can be tough.

The charity he founded and runs is named for the woman who taught him those lessons: his late mom, Gemma.

“I know what it’s like to be in poverty,” he said, “and so I identify with all of these people.”

“Instead of putting all the money into food now, we can put money other places” like a car, Martin said.

“I don’t know,” Macchioni said with a smile. “We’re happy to help people.” Soup kitchens and shelters will also see the mobile market — 29 spots around Dauphin and Lebanon counties.

Done in Palmyra a couple hours later, on to the next in need.

Macchioni hopes to run the mobile market two or three times a week. In order to do so, they’ll need volunteers. Visit their website here if you’re interested.

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