Good News Notes:
“Popcorn is positively changing the lives of people in New Jersey — and not just by being a salty treat at the movie theater.
It’s thanks to an organization known as Popcorn for the People, a Piscataway-based nonprofit that employs people with autism and developmental disabilities to produce its line of gourmet treats.
“My parents started this organization because they saw I was having difficulty finding employment,” Sam Bier told NJ Advance Media of the nonprofit. “They saw in my eyes I could become a leader.”
Since its founding in 2015, Popcorn for the People has grown into a full-blown popcorn-production facility that employs adults on the spectrum in both full- and part-time positions. Jobs range from making popcorn using industrial machinery, to packaging it, to working in administration. The focus, the organization’s leaders say, is on workers, matching them to jobs that specifically fit their skillsets.
“Almost all of our employees have almost never had a job before or been let go of jobs frequently,” said Chief Operating Officer Rachel Cheng. “People didn’t see the value in them or the right resources were not provided to give them what they needed to grow and learn.”
There’s an estimated 80% or higher unemployment rate in the autism community, according to Autism Speaks. Popcorn for the People has 65 employees, 50 of whom have special needs. And production is popping.
In addition to selling bags on its website and at New Jersey rest areas, the organization has partnered with places like Rutgers and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Autism Foundation to set up popcorn stands at games. The organization produces thousands of bags of popcorn every week, sells them for $8 to $9 a piece (depending on the flavor), and puts all of that money, it says, into workers’ paychecks….”