This guest post is by Rachel Cheng from Popcorn for the People, a nonprofit providing meaningful employment for adults on the autism spectrum through the creation of gourmet popcorn. Rachel is applying for our Supporting Small Businesses That Hire People With Disabilities Grant Opportunity ran by my nonprofit KFM Making A Difference. You can learn more about the grant opportunity here.
I hope you can support my nonprofit like I’m trying to support our community. I also produce educational videos to celebrate neurodiversity by spotlighting individuals impacted by a diagnosis. Learn more on how you can help our cause with a small donation (just asking for $3 today, equal to your daily cup of coffee) here.
According to Autism Speaks, the majority of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed. Furthermore, with 500,000 individuals on the autism spectrum aging into adulthood over the next 10 years, the need for sustainable employment has never been greater.
Let’s Work for Good’s program, Popcorn for the People (PFTP), is an innovator that addresses this unmet community need. Founded in 2015, PFTP was established to create meaningful job opportunities for adults with autism in East Brunswick, NJ. PFTP has grown from a two-person popcorn stand to a 4,000- square foot manufacturing plant with national distribution. PFTP is now one of the nation’s largest employers of workers with autism employing over 90 adults since inception to cook, package and distribute their trademarked product across the US. In 2019 PFTP workers with autism cooked, packaged, and sold over 150,000 bags of popcorn.
PFTP has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. There are two specific challenges our organization seeks to overcome to ensure we continue serving our mission.
First, with COVID-19 precautionary mandates closing down, and limiting capacities in large, public and private venues our popcorn sales have declined significantly (approximately 90%). Prior to the pandemic, PFTP had been featured prominently as a contracted vendor at Philadelphia Eagles games, Harry Potter on Broadway, Rutgers Big 10 Athletics and Rockefeller Center. Fewer sales mean a decrease in manufacturing and packaging – core functions of our staff with autism. Our response is a laser- focused effort on new ways of reaching audiences and new tools to support that experience. Unable to rely on physical point of sales to the degree we once did, we are investing in changes to our e-commerce capabilities, marketing, sales and distribution to include an emphasis on online and corporate sales. We recognize that we must re-brand Popcorn for the People to expand distribution outlets and possibilities.
Secondly, we have had to invest in capital that enables us to shift some work functions to a home-based model to accommodate health guidelines and ensure that our team is able to execute their job functions albeit on a limited basis at present. Despite diminishing sales, we must invest in items that uphold food- safety requirements and keep our employees safe while enabling efficient work-from-home opportunities, particularly in the fulfillment process.
Philanthropic funding will enable us to respond to this changing landscape and ensures the continued employment of our staff with autism. Not only are we committed to supporting the financial independence enjoyed by the more than 80 staff members with autism, we are committed maintaining the role we play in regard to quality of life for families impacted by autism. Many of our employees now are able to rely on wages earned at their job at Popcorn for the People, thus helping their families pay important bills and contribute to the household.
PFTP is currently prioritizing needs, procuring estimates and setting action items. PFTP is currently prioritizing needs, procuring estimates and setting action items. The working budget to address these new needs has been broken down as follows: Employee wages and benefits ($15,000); re-e-commerce and technology ($10,000); technology upgrades ($10,000); safety measures including personal protective equipment and sanitation ($12,000). We are requesting help from your foundation to assist in this large estimate.
Philanthropic funding will enable us to respond to this changing landscape and ensures the continued employment of our staff with autism. Not only are we committed to supporting the financial independence enjoyed by the more than 80 staff members with autism, we are committed maintaining the role we play in regard to quality of life for families impacted by autism. Many of our employees now are able to rely on wages earned at their job at Popcorn for the People, thus helping their families pay important bills and contribute to the household. With all of these factors, our employees need the freedom to breakaway from their current hinderance that is the state funded benefits. If we were able to provide healthcare benefits to them, they would no longer have to rely on the state funded care, allowing them to work as much as they desire and without limiting their hours in fear of losing the benefits. These concerns have become even more prevalent due to the health concerns during COVID- 19.
Please if you can follow them on Facebook – Kerry
Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education.
Have Kerry, one of the only professionally accredited speakers on the spectrum in the country, speak at your next event by sending him an inquiry here. If you have a referral for someone who many want him to speak please reach out as well! Kerry speaks with schools, businesses, government agencies, colleges, nonprofit organizations, parent groups and other special events on topics ranging from employment, how to succeed in college with a learning disability, internal communication, living with autism, bullying prevention, social media best practices, innovation, presentation best practices and much more!