In 2019, Frank Gumienny was at a Rutgers football game with his daughter, Allison, when they got an urge for a mid-game snack. Like a lot of football fans, Gumienny, Eagles Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, and his daughter bought a bag of popcorn. Little did they know how impactful that one bag of popcorn would be for the Eagles organization.
Established in 2014, Popcorn for the People was founded to create career opportunities for the disabled community, specifically those who have autism. The company was co-founded by Samuel Bier, who is on the spectrum. Bier was a cart attendant at his local grocery store. One day, he forgot to put sunscreen on and came home with a bad sunburn. That is when his dad, Dr. Steve Bier, decided it was time for a change; it was time to start a business.
While sitting in his seat, Gumienny read the label on the bag of popcorn and discovered Popcorn for the People. A light bulb went off in Gumienny's head and he immediately bought another bag to take back to the NovaCare Complex.
"This fit right into the Eagles' mission," Gumienny said. "I tell people, Jeffrey's (Lurie, Eagles Chairman and CEO) two main visions are to win Super Bowls and support the autism community. Anytime we can hit those goals, we are doing the right thing."
The bag of popcorn was for Ryan Hammond, the Executive Director of the Eagles Autism Foundation. Throughout that next week, discussions occurred between Gumienny, Hammond, and the leaders of Popcorn for the People. A partnership was born, and the popcorn was first sold during the Eagles versus Giants game in December 2019.
Since that game, Popcorn for the People has been sold throughout Lincoln Financial Field at pop-up shops and regular concession stands. With the mission of Popcorn for the People and the Eagles Autism Foundation, this partnership was a perfect match.
"Autism is the most underemployed disability," Hammond said. "This is such a priority for us because it is really life-changing to give someone employment, a purpose, and a paycheck."
This weekend, the relationship between the Eagles and Popcorn for the People continued to expand with the addition of corporate sponsors.
Along with Wawa and Nouryon, the Eagles pledged to turn a closed Wawa location into a production facility for Popcorn for the People and opened a permanent stand at Lincoln Financial Field, located in Pepsi Plaza.
"Our relationships with each of them have evolved into a collaborative partnership that is creating new employment opportunities for neurodiverse and disabled individuals in Philadelphia," Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said.
Renderings for the new factory at 901 South Street were revealed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony before Sunday's Training Camp Public Practice.
Leaders from Wawa, Nouryon, the Eagles, and the Eagles Autism Foundation were in attendance for the announcement of the groundbreaking multimillion-dollar investment that culminated in a process of perfect timing and teamwork. In April, Hammond was speaking at an Eagles Autism Foundation event with Wawa when its CEO Chris Gheysens and team asked her how the Foundation could benefit from one of their closed stores.
Wawa and the Eagles Autism Foundation continue to grow their partnership. Wawa has participated in the Eagles Autism Challenge since its inception. They also recently collaborated on an exercise and dance clinic at the Wawa Welcome America festival that was open to all abilities. The Eagles provided exercise challenges, the Eagles Cheerleaders, the Drumline, and SWOOP, who got everyone up and moving.
The wonderful thing about the combination of Wawa and the Eagles is that they share the same mission and values. Both organizations want to help a community that is undervalued in the workforce.
Just like the Eagles have the Eagles Autism Foundation, Wawa has a program that supports those with disabilities. Wawa's Supported Employment Program provides work at Wawa locations for over 500 individuals with intellectual disabilities. Finding meaningful employment as a disabled individual is one of the biggest challenges that they face. David Simonetti, Wawa's Senior Director of Store Operations, has a daughter with Down Syndrome which has inspired him to play a meaningful role in this initiative.
"This is a program that is incredibly special to me and not just the employees, but the associates that have this program in their stores," Simonetti said. "We are willing to help any business that is willing to employ this population."
While Wawa has been a huge supporter of the new Popcorn for the People investment, this project would not have been possible without the people from Nouryon.
Nouryon is a chemical manufacturing company with over 8,000 employees in 80 countries. With offices located outside of Philadelphia, Nouryon has partnered with the Eagles on many community initiatives, including the All-Pro Teachers Program and veterans programs.
"To be able to more than double or triple employment in this entity is tremendous," Nouryon Chairman and CEO Charlie Shaver said. "I hope this ultimately finds its way into other industries where there are opportunities for people to be employed."
The investment with Nouryon and Wawa will be extremely impactful for Popcorn for the People.
The plan is for the 9th & South Street production facility to be open in the first quarter of 2024. While the location will not be a store open to the public, it will help Popcorn for the People meet the increasing demand for its product.
"They need this factory because they need additional capacity to generate more popcorn and more jobs," Gumienny said. "This factory will also help keep the popcorn supply sustained at Lincoln Financial Field and be able to sell it at all the different events."
The long-term goal of the partnership between the Eagles Autism Foundation, Wawa, and Nouryon is to grow the Popcorn for the People brand and continue opening jobs for the neurodiverse community. With Sunday's unveiling, they are well on their way!