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CBS 21: Gemma's Angels fills bus with toy donations for families in need

July 21st may be National Junk Food Day, but don't forget about the healthy snacks that give junk food a run for its money! Advisory Board Member Amanda Frankeny explains to ABC 27's Good Day Today healthy snacks for kids.

That’s Life | The Sun

Copyright The Sun

By Anne Reeves

Truck Farm Trailer Photo: Mike Macchioni. Garden on Wheels

Food-truck mania has transformed dining from coast to coast, filling city streets with rolling restaurants that offer everything from crepes to chow mein.

But few of the four-wheeled food wagons actually haul around the gardens where they get their fruits and vegetables.

One local social advocate is trying to change that in an unusual way.

 Truck Farm Trailer Photo: Mike Macchioni. Garden on Wheels

Truck Farm Trailer Photo: Mike Macchioni. Garden on Wheels

Michael Macchioni, president and founder of Gemma’s Angels, recently expanded his quest to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income families by putting a real garden on the road: the Truck Farm Trailer.

The flatbed trailer was outfitted to hold a living, everchanging garden that features a variety of vegetables. Part of the unique traveling exhibit even shows the roots of the plants through a small plexiglass window.

“Basically, the whole idea is what we call an ‘edible garden on wheels.’ It teaches kids and families all about growing food,” Macchioni said.

“Kids may love tomatoes, but think they come from a store and not necessarily grown as a plant. It’s an urban agricultural project that not only teaches about the benefits of nutrition, but also about sustainability.”

The Hershey resident started the non-profit organization Gemma’s Angels in 2006 to help provide produce to homeless shelters, food banks and soup kitchens in Dauphin and Lebanon counties.

Macchioni received a $20,000 Gaming Grant from the Dauphin County Commissioners in 2016 and used the funds to purchase the Truck Farm Trailer and the Mobile Farmer’s Market, a reconditioned mini bus that he uses to deliver fresh produce throughout the area.

The Truck Farm Project started several years ago when New York City-based filmmaker Ian Cheney planted a garden in his grandfather’s old pickup truck and made a short film about it. Macchioni was inspired by the effort and decided to start a similar project in the mid-state.

Gemma’s Angels’ volunteers have taken the trailer to various events in downtown Harrisburg this summer, including festivals, churches and street fairs. The reaction has been nothing short of miraculous, Macchioni said.

“Right now, we’re sitting on some 15 requests for us to appear and we really haven’t even advertised yet,” he said.

“The first time we went out was during the Harrisburg Multicultural Festival. It was a rainy, crappy day, but during the four hours we were there, we estimated 100 people visited the Truck Farm Trailer.”

Visitors receive a short “Test Your Garden IQ” quiz to try and match the plant to its vegetable. The exercise helps bring families together, Macchioni said.

“People would say, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ One of the things that we thought was really amazing was that there was a lot of child and parent interaction. That’s what we were hoping for,” he said.

“We give out wristbands, bookmarks and pencils with our mascot ‘Farmer Andy’ on them and I try to make a deal with the kids: I’ll give them pencils, wristbands and a little packet of veggies with dip if they give me the bag of chips they’re eating when they come up to visit us. One little girl was stuffing chips in her mouth, she looked at me and said, ‘OK, deal.’”

Poverty should not be an obstacle to eating fresh local produce, Macchioni said. Increasing access to fruits and vegetables in urban areas like Harrisburg and Lebanon is vitally important.

“There are farmer’s markets in cities, but you don’t see a lot of the inner-city population shopping there. It’s not always affordable,” he said.

Tina Hornberger, a member of the Gemma’s Angels advisory board and a dietitian with PinnacleHealth, turned the vacant trailer into a rolling garden. The Harrisburg resident grew up on a farm, “knowing where the good stuff came from.”

“I first met Mike during a National Night Out a couple of years ago when he was handing out vegetables to kids. I thought, ‘Now here’s somebody I need to talk to, someone who has dreams similar to mine,’” Hornberger said.

“Fruits and vegetables right out of the garden always taste better. If kids are involved with growing their food, they’re much more likely to eat it. There’s something about getting your hands dirty, too,” she said.

Children growing up in the inner city don’t get to see a lot of gardens, Hornberger said. As a result, there’s an educational gap when it comes to understanding the nutritional importance of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The kids are really interested in the farm trailer, they keep coming back. It’s really fun,” she said.

Hornberger said the group is pleased with the project’s first year and is looking forward to expanding it in the future.

For more information, contact Gemma’s Angels at 298- 0150, or


Gemma's Angels featured on wgal tv8

WGAL TV 8 News team followed us on January 25, 2017 on one of our produce distribution rounds in Lebanon and Dauphin Counties.


November 6, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) - Nov 4, 2016 - A Dauphin County food charity is experimenting with a new way to get healthy food options to people who might not get them otherwise.

Click here for the complete article.

Gemma's Angels Founder Receives Volunteer of the Year award by the United Way of the Capital Region

Pictured on the right are abc27-WHTM TV Anchor/Reporter Valerie Pritchett, event emcee and Denise Britton, Shalom House Executive Director with Gemma's Angels founder Mike Macchioni. Mike was recognized for outstanding volunteer service as a nominee for Volunteer of the Year award by the United Way of the Capital Region on Thursday, April 25, 2013. Thanks to the folks at Shalom for recognizing our work!

Area Man Delivers Food to Shelters

By Nick Malawskey
October 03, 2010

Mike Macchioni is a big guy with two bad knees and a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush.

But beneath his rough exterior and expansive chest beats a heart of gold.

Almost two decades ago, Macchioni started volunteering at local soup kitchens and shelters. He would donate food or organize a Christmas party. Eventually, he started donating fresh produce, usually once a week.

Three years ago, after his mother died, he created a nonprofit, Gemma’s Angels, which he named after her. This summer, he started a donate-a-tomato program, encouraging backyard gardeners to help their communities.

It’s 10 a.m. on a recent Friday, and Macchioni’s making his weekly rounds. Outside of the Shalom House shelter in Harrisburg, he’s wedged himself into his small, well-worn Saturn sedan.

The brakes squeal, some of the interior paneling is missing and, between him and his children, the car has logged untold miles.

In the backseat and trunk are boxes of fresh produce — tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes and apples — he picked up the day before at a farmers auction in Manheim.

The brakes squeal, some of the interior paneling is missing and, between him and his children, the car has logged untold miles.

In the backseat and trunk are boxes of fresh produce — tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes and apples — he picked up the day before at a farmers auction in Manheim.

“One thing I’ve run into with these shelters is ... they don’t get [much] produce,” he said as he dials the Shalom House’s line.

“Hey, it’s Mike the produce guy. I’m out front.”

A couple of volunteers come out and chat with Macchioni. There’s some good-natured haggling over the veggies — the bell peppers are in demand — but Macchioni has other stops to make, so Shalom can’t have them all.

To the volunteers, Macchioni’s an old friend.

“[Macchioni] has always been there,” shelter director Lori Hoffman said. “He really is unique in that way.”

“Unique” is a word people often used to describe Macchioni. So is “character.”

The Hershey native has a loud voice, he’s self-diagnosed with adult attention deficit disorder, and he doesn’t sugarcoat his opinions, whether political, religious or philosophical.

When trying to pull out of an alley, he doesn’t find an opening in a line of cars. The moment sends him on a curse-laden soliloquy bemoaning the lack of civility in modern life. A few blocks later, he redresses his grievances by stopping on a busy thoroughfare to let a “pappy” make his way across the road.

But he’s also the first to admit that he’s not perfect.

He recently filed for divorce, and he doesn’t look after his health. He has occasional financial problems.

“In between all of this, I’m trying to pay my bills, which I’m not very good at,” he said.

He used to provide training at mobile-phone companies. Now he designs and builds Web pages for community organizations and businesses. Most months it pays the bills, he said.

What he has left over he uses to help those in need. He also solicits donations from friends and family.

A buck here, a buck there and it adds up, he said.

Driving down Cameron Street between stops, he spies the Holsum discount bakery.

“You think they’ll want some bread?” he asks, though he knows the answer. For less than $15, he picks up 16 loaves and four boxes of cookies.

“They never have cookies,” he said by way of explanation. Most of the cookies, the bread and the last of the vegetables are dropped off at the Uptown Soup Kitchen at the Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell United Methodist Church before he circles back to Shalom House. He saved two boxes of cookies for the volunteers and clients of the shelter.

Macchioni has a soft spot for the group that he can’t explain. It was one of the first he started working with, and it seems he always has a project there.

“I think it’s our responsibility to give to other people,” he said. “And now, more than ever, the need is greater.”

The Shalom shelter has been full for months.

Like many other shelters, it’s struggling as public budgets and grants get cut back.

Macchioni said the bad economy has hurt his Web-based business, but he’s still managing to pay the bills and find money to help others.

“You just kind of juggle,” he said. “I keep above water.”

He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. After all, the challenges he faces are a far cry from the challenges faced by those who are making do on the streets.

“We think we know what tough is,” he said as he drove the Saturn away from the shelter. “We don’t.”


September 17, 2015

A man who gives donated fresh produce to shelters and soup kitchens in Dauphin and and Lancaster counties had been grounded. News 8's Barbara Barr reports on how he got back to his giving ways.

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Click here to view video