The Eagles have found a way to repurpose one of Center City’s shuttered Wawas for a good cause.
Closed since 2021, the convenience store at 9th and South streets is being transformed into a production facility for Popcorn for the People, a New Jersey-based nonprofit established to create career opportunities for the disabled and autistic community.
It’s all happening through a partnership between the nonprofit, the Eagles Autism Foundation, Wawa, and Nouryon, a global chemicals manufacturer that has been a strong supporter of the foundation in the past.
“This transformational partnership is a prime example of what can be accomplished when organizations with aligned missions come together,” said Eagles CEO Jeffrey Lurie, a champion of the foundation, which has raised more than $22 million for autism research, in a press release. “Neurodiverse individuals contribute to society in so many ways and bring unique skill sets to the workplace.”
Corn popped and bagged at the former Wawa will be sold at a new concession stand at Lincoln Financial Field, and $1 from each bag will support the Eagles Autism Foundation’s community grants program.
An early 2024 launch is targeted for the new stand. Like all Popcorn for the People locations, which include airports in N.J. and NYC, it will be staffed by people on the autism spectrum or with a disability.
About 79% of adults with a disability were unemployed last year, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s not easy for autistic people to get jobs in the first place — 42% of young adults on the spectrum never worked for pay during their early 20s, per a 2015 Drexel study — but it can be even more difficult to find fulfilling careers.
That’s why Popcorn for the People was created, according to Samuel Bier, who in 2014 founded the organization with his parents.
“I had no working experience besides pushing shopping carts at a grocery store,” Bier says on the organization’s website. “No company was open to giving me an opportunity that felt fulfilling. My parents and I came together to create opportunities for not just me, but others struggling with employment too.”
The org’s namesake snack comes in a variety of flavors, including classic buttered, baked cheddar, caramel, kettle corn style, and dark chocolate espresso. You can also order bags online.
Dedicating the 9th and South storefront to the cause “highlights Wawa’s continued investment in employment opportunities for all,” said Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens, in a statement. “We look forward to the many new ways our repurposed store will fulfill the lives of our community.”
Wawa has closed at least six Center City locations since 2020. Gheysens said earlier this year that the Delco-headquartered convenience giant was exploring turning the one at 19th and Market into a tech training center.