EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J., August 1, 2018 – Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier, inspired by her autistic son Samuel’s struggles with finding a job, created Popcorn for the People, a nonprofit social enterprise that trains and hires autistic adults to cook gourmet popcorn. The company has grown from one autistic employee, Samuel, to over 20 employees. One hundred percent of the proceeds go toward their employment, combating the over 80 percent unemployment rate of adults on the autism spectrum. It is now the only company to sell nationally a trademarked brand created by autistic workers.
Three years ago, Samuel Bier applied for jobs and was constantly rejected due to hiring processes which were not designed for the needs of those with autism. Unfortunately, Samuel’s story reflects that of many on the autistic spectrum, as adults with disabilities often find it difficult to obtain meaningful employment. In response, Dr. Zimmerman-Bier created a small popcorn shop at the Freehold Mall to provide Samuel with employment.
“Seeing what my son went through made me realize the huge need in the autism community for places like Popcorn for the People,” said Dr. Zimmerman-Bier. “It was just supposed to be this little shop, and now it’s grown crazy.”
Due to the popularity of the brand, which includes artisan flavors such as Cookies & Cream and French Toast popcorn, the popcorn is now sold at Rutgers’ Football, on Broadway at “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” and at Newark Airport Hilton. Since its conception, Popcorn for the People has moved from its tiny mall shop into a production facility in East Brunswick. Soon, Popcorn for the People will be moving to an even larger facility in Piscataway, NJ. Additionally, orders can be purchased online at popcornforthepeople.com.
“Working at Popcorn for the People has been a wonderful experience,” said Allison, an employee with autism. “It’s given me a number of different opportunities to grow and develop all the work skills I’ve acquired throughout my previous experiences and apply them.”
Today, Popcorn for the People employs 23 people on the autism spectrum; with its current growth, they hope to continue providing opportunities for autistic adults.