By Sabrina Damms
04:27PM / Saturday, July 01, 2023
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Bank's popcorn wagon has become a city icon over the past century.
In its latest incarnation, it's become an integral part of Goodwill's spring and summer Retail Training Program.
The antique wagon was built in 1906 and brought to Pittsfield from South Dakota in 1909 by Berkshire County resident Daniel "Stuffy" McGinnis.
Over the years, the wagon has gone through several owners and changes including being converted from a steam-powered popcorn popper to an electric one in the 1970s. More on the wagon's history here
The bank, then Berkshire County Savings, had arranged with the last owner to use the wagon as a symbol and it was parked outside the bank's former home on Park Square. Berkshire Bank purchased it in 2003 and the Berkshire Bank Foundation has collaborated with local social service agencies to allowed the wagon to be used for fundraising purposes.
For the last two years, the wagon (now parked in front Berkshire Bank's North Street headquarters) has been utilized to help train the nonprofits' supportive employees, Vice President of Mission Services Kathy Anker said. A supportive employee is a client of the state Department of Developmental Disabilities.
The Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont hires clients of the state agency to work in warehouses and stores in Pittsfield, giving them a chance to demonstrate their customer service skills and learn other skills like cash handling.
The nonprofit recently expanded this program, from eight participants last year to 18 this year. In addition, it has expanded the wagon's hours to Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
"We're trying to give these participants more knowledge and customer service and more training in adapting to the world," job coach Hector Fuentes said, adding that seeing the supportive employees' growth and how they blossom like a flower makes his job worth it.
Some supportive employees have a hard time counting cash or have trouble interacting with others because of anxiety but job coaches, like Fuentes, help them so they can move forward.
"It's a historic popcorn wagon and not only that but we're giving back to the community by giving these participants an opportunity to deal with customers, deal with money … that's how we give back and we're just trying to teach them so they can move forward," he said.
The opportunities the program provides also helps relieve the misconceptions that some have regarding individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, Anker said.
Community members have been very patient and willing to help people who are trying to learn, Fuentes said.
"It gives the community your chance to see that people with different abilities can be successful, can understand customer service, and are capable of running a business," Anker said. "…and I think it gives the community the opportunity to learn more about what Goodwill does, because sometimes I think it's the best kept secret in Berkshire County."
Goodwill offers a variety of services and programs to help job seekers receive training and to help people get back on their feet including employability programs and its nationally recognized programs for customer service training, custodial training.
for Success Program "provides skills training for people looking to enter the world of employment, or reentering from incarceration, recovery programs, giving people a chance to get their lives back together or just get their lives off the ground," Anker said.
The nonprofit has also been known to help individuals leaving a domestic violence situation by giving them Goodwill gift cards to be used to buy clothes or furniture.
More information on Goodwill's programs here
or contact Mission Services at 413-442-0061, Ext. 14.
*SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery is a program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that helps communities and nonprofit organizations increase access to Social Security Income and Disability Insurance benefits for individuals with substance abuse issues, mental or medical impairment and risk for homelessness.