Family Run

Buying Popcorn From This Company Can Help Change Lives. Here's Why.

"It is very crucial for people to remember that every three bags sold equates to an hour of employment."

While there is much support for people with autism spectrum disorder — a condition that presents challenges related to behavior, speech, and social skills — when it comes to finding employment, resources are lacking.  

In fact, it is reported that 35 percent of young adults (ages 19 to 23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school. What's more, in 2014 the Bureau of  Labor Statistics reported that only about 19 percent of people in the U.S. with disabilities were working or seeking work, and the unemployment rate for those with autism is as high as 80 to 90 percent.

Thankfully, there are those working to change these disheartening statistics by providing employment opportunities for people with autism. Brewability Lab, for example, is the world's first brewery that employs adults with developmental disabilities. Similarly Finley's Barkery and No Label At The Table are two companies that only employ people with autism.

Most recently, we learned about Popcorn for the People, another great organization supporting those on the spectrum with every bag of popcorn sold.


Courtesy of Connor Shah and Matt Canale

Popcorn for the People started with Samuel Bier, the son of Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier. Bier has autism and began applying for jobs three years ago. Dr. Steven Bier explained to A Plus via email that Sam was rejected because the hiring processes weren't designed for the needs of those with autism.

Seeing how her son's story was indicative of many people on the autism spectrum, Zimmerman-Bier created Popcorn for the People.

The choice of launching a nonprofit social enterprise featuring gourmet popcorn was inspired by Sam's love of popcorn. On the Popcorn for the People website it says that the founders were considering the high autism unemployment rate as they saw Sam "gleefully tossing popcorn into his mouth while laughing at Monty Python."

Courtesy of Connor Shah and Matt Canale

Inspiration struck and Bier and Zimmerman-Bier decided to use the popular snack to help employ those with autism.

Popcorn for the People began as a pop-up at the Freehold Mall in New Jersey with Sam cooking popcorn and chef Agnes Cushing-Ruby developing unique flavor combinations.

Fast forward a few years and Bier tells A Plus that the company has gone from having one employee with autism (Sam) to 23 workers who are on the spectrum as part of its 50-person staff. 

The social enterprise hires and trains staff and they are integral to the company. "The workers are a crucial part of the company they pull the ingredients together and make the popcorn, they package the popcorn and get it ready to be sent out to either fulfill an order or to an event," Bier explains. "Moreover, the workers sell popcorn at pop-up events such as festivals."

Courtesy of Connor Shah and Matt Canale

The staff is recruited in various ways, including applying on their own, or being referred to the company by local schools. 

In addition to being a self-described "equal popportunity employer" for those on the autism spectrum, Popcorn for the People puts one hundred percent of its proceeds toward the workers' employment. 

Today, Popcorn for the People is recognized for being the only company to nationally sell a trademarked brand created by workers with autism.

Popcorn for the People now has twelve different flavors, excluding seasonal ones, all created by Cushing-Ruby. They include unexpected things such as Buffalo Wing, Chicago Baked Cheddar Cheese, Cookies n Cream, and French Toast. In addition to making addictive flavors, Cushing-Rugby donates 40 hours of her time each week to the company to help workers make popcorn. 

The entire experience of Popcorn for the People has been so important to Bier because it's helping the autism unemployment rate go down. "Most of our administrators have family members on the autistic spectrum and with other developmental disabilities," he explained, "We are devoted to the mission of creating meaningful, sustainable employment for the autism community.

Courtesy of  Connor Shah and Matt Canale

"Having the ability to quite literally change lives has been so gratifying for us, it is the whole point of our company," he added. "Changing lives one bag of popcorn at a time."

Bier reveals that the community has also been very receptive to Popcorn for the People. He says, "The response from the community has been overwhelming. They have been very supportive of us and are extremely excited for our mission."

Courtesy of Connor Shah and Matt Canale

Sam is also thrilled to be helping others, and is excited by the unexpected growth of the company. "I never thought that the little pop-up shop would grow into this," Sam stated. "It makes me so happy to see we have helped so many people."

The future looks bright for the company with the community's support and its continued expansion. "Our goal is to reach as many people as we can with our mission and expand our company," reports Bier. 

Popcorn for the People is setting to work on this mission. For instance, the brand's gourmet popcorn is now sold at the Hilton Hotel, Red Bull Arena, and Lyric Theater in Times Square where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child plays. The company is also expanding to a larger production facility in July to keep up with the demand. 

Bier hopes that readers will take away how buying popcorn can change a person's life. "It is very crucial for people to remember that every three bags sold equates to an hour of employment. Buying our popcorn changes lives," he said.


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