Wawa Opens Door for Neurodiverse Employment at Former Philadelphia Store

The nonprofit group Popcorn for the People will hire a dedicated staff of 25 employees.
Angela Hanson
Popcorn for the People at a former Wawa c-store

WAWA, Pa. — Wawa Inc. joined the Eagles Autism Foundation, Popcorn for the People and Nouryon to hold a ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new production facility that will create employment opportunities for the neurodiverse community.

The facility is located in a former Wawa convenience store at the corner of 9th and South Streets in Philadelphia's Center City.

[Read more: Wawa Goes Live With New Retail Media Network]

The new dedicated space for Popcorn for the People, a nonprofit dedicated to creating meaningful and sustainable employment for neurodiverse individuals, allows the organization to hire and train adults with autism and development disabilities to cook, prepare and package popcorn. One dollar from every bag sold will go to the Eagles Autism Foundation to help fund future community grants.

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"For more than 40 years, Wawa has proudly hired neurodiverse individuals through its supported employment program, which has over 500 associates working across its chain," said Wawa Senior Director of Store Operations Dave Simonetti. "Although the doors closed at our former Wawa store, we're thrilled to open doors in a new way with opportunities for meaningful employment."

Wawa and its partners announced the former c-store's transformation in August 2023. To enable the partnership, Wawa will provide in-kind support of more than $1.5 million over the next five years, while the Eagles Autism Foundation provided additional funding for store equipment to make the popcorn in conjunction with its partner, Nouryon, which provided $500,000 in matching gifts to help bring the project to life.

During the first six to 12 months of the facility's operation, Popcorn for the People will hire and train a dedicated staff of 25 employees. A newly branded Popcorn for the People community vehicle will travel around the region delivering product to events, creating even more employment opportunities for individuals, according to the organization.

Popcorn for the People will also expand its footprint in and around Lincoln Financial Field, where the facility was announced, while its product presence in Wawa stores will expand from 30 locations to as many as 75 across the greater Philadelphia region.

"This partnership between the Eagles Autism Foundation, Popcorn for the People, Wawa, and Nouryon is going to change lives for generations of people in the neurodiverse community," said Jeffrey Lurie, chairman and CEO, Philadelphia Eagles. "This milestone took a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of so many people who work tirelessly to break down barriers that stand in the way of employment for individuals of all abilities. I am both proud and humbled to be part of this historic moment and hope the success that follows here will inspire others around the world to support neurodiversity in similar ways."

Popcorn for the People's flavor offerings include classics like Caramel, Butter and Kettle, plus gourmet creations like Dark Chocolate Espresso, Chicago Baked Cheddar and French Toast.

[Read more: Wawa Celebrates 60 Years With 70-Plus New Stores]

"We are grateful for the generous contributions of the Eagles Autism Foundation, Wawa, and Nouyron who have been instrumental in expanding our footprint into the Philadelphia market," said Mark Katz, Popcorn for the People board chair, and chief operating officer/chief financial officer at Vera Wang. "Popcorn for the People's model demonstrates that neurodiverse individuals bring a unique and valuable skillset to the workforce. Together, we are creating employment opportunities and fostering inclusivity. This collaboration exemplifies the power of community and corporate partnership in creating positive social impact."

Pennsylvania-based Wawa operates 1,000 c-stores throughout the Northeast and Florida.

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