Popcorn firm that employs adults with autism opens new facility


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EAST BRUNSWICK Creating edible kernel flavors ranging from cookies and cream to buffalo wing, Popcorn for the People opened its newest location.

Popcorn For the People is a project through Let’s Work For Good, which was founded in 2015 by developmental pediatrician Barbie Zimmerman Bier and her husband Steven, along with their son Samuel, who has autism.

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“[T]he purpose of Let’s Work For Good is to create real sustainable employment for autistic workers and workers with other developmental disabilities. So, there is about an 80 percent unemployment rate in the autistic community, so basically we are fighting unemployment one kernel of popcorn at a time,” said Dr. Steven Bier, the organization’s general manager.

East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen celebrated the opening of the non-profit organization’s newest processing center on Aug. 30 at 11 Harts Lane in East Brunswick.

“I hope that they continue to grow and for the kids that are working there they’re getting valuable experiences and hopefully at the end of it they get out and they actually get a job working for someone and that to me is like graduation for them,” Cohen said. “For the people that [run] this company, Steve and the individuals who work there, their goal is to get these kids employed, to be able to do something with their lives and feel like they have a contribution to make. This really was an honor to be able to cut the ribbon, I mean I do that at openings – that’s what mayors do, but this was especially gratifying just because of who they are and what they do.”

F. Greek Development owner Frank Greek donated the space for the facility and Will and Amy Schafer, owners of Ashley Furniture Homestore in East Brunswick, donated the equipment for the center, according to Dr. Steven Bier.

The organization originally had a store called Pop In Cafe at the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick.

“Popcorn for the People is trademarked and it’s a national brand and is now being sold throughout the country through a grant from Google,” he said. “Popcorn for the People right here in East Brunswick, as far as we know, is the only facility like this with autistic workers developing a nationally branded product.”

The organization currently employs approximately 15 disabled workers, according to Dr. Steven Bier.

“We finally opened for business and it’s going to be a thrill working here and it’s amazing and awesome. I always liked the Pop in Cafe and I have been trying to get a job so I decided that I wanted to go for this job, because it’s a place for people with disabilities,” employee Gabriella Monard said.

The organization sells several different flavors of popcorn that include cookies and cream, cheddar cheese, French toast, salt and vinegar, buffalo wing, white cheddar, dark chocolate espresso, extreme caramel, extreme caramel and chocolate, apple caramel, and Girl Scout-inspired Thin Mint, according to the organization’s website.

Each flavor was developed by the organization’s head chef Agnes Ruby-Cushing who has a daughter with autism, according to Dr. Steven Bier.

Cushing said that she left the medical research field after 15 years and has developed 20 flavors of popcorn for the organization.

“I wanted to do a chef-type program with the idea that I wanted to do something to involve adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, because they are not part of the workforce,” Cushing said. “I signed up to do a chef program so when I left it was really the idea that I felt like I needed to be doing something else and moving forward. The one thing that my daughter and I both like, my autistic daughter, is cooking and baking.”

The organization has started a partnership with Rutgers Business School which provides the organization with business students to help it with development. The organization also started a partnership with the non-profit organization Enactus, which is an international non-profit that helps other non-profits be self sustaining, according to Dr. Steven Bier.

According to Dr. Steven Bier, the organization will be at all of the Rutgers athletic events at High Point Solutions Stadium, where the organization will sell its flavored popcorn.

“[The facility] allows us to have real long-term sustainable employment for the autistic and [for] other developmentally disabled workers in East Brunswick. This will allow people to eat well and do good,” Dr. Steven Bier said.

For more information about Popcorn for the People, visit www.popcornforthepeople.com or call 732-613-1690.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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