Written by our Founder and CEO, our Celebrations Pulse Sunday Letters aim to engage with our community. From sharing stories to welcoming your ideas, we want to help you to express, connect, and celebrate the important people in your life.

It’s often said that the first step to change is awareness. The statement is true for people and the broader community: If you want to improve a situation, you need to know about the problem to fix it.

That’s the reason Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is so important. Every March since 1987, the occasion has helped shed light on the millions of people in the United States living with disabilities and the obstacles they face in living their lives to their fullest potential.

Employment is one such challenge. About 61 million Americans live with disabilities and struggle to find meaningful employment. Just 21% of people with a disability were employed last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, over 65% of people without disabilities have jobs.

Before this month ends, we wanted to make you aware of exciting news from Smile Farms and Johns Crazy Socks, two organizations at the forefront of helping with awareness and giving people with disabilities meaningful job opportunities.

New jobs at Smile Farms

When we launched Smile Farms in 2015, the goal was to create job opportunities in agricultural settings for people like our brother Kevin, who has a developmental disability. The organization has expanded to 11 campuses across Long Island and New York City and now counts more than 270 Smile Farmers.

Over the years, Smile Farms has partnered with numerous restaurants to provide some of the food. One of its partners, Crafted Hospitality, the food service company of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, has been working with Smile Farms since 2018. It has hosted a campus employing a Smile Farmer, purchased Smile Farms-grown produce to use on its menus, and supported Heat with Heart, the hot sauce made from peppers grown by Smile Farmers. 

smile farmers group

When the pandemic began to ease, restaurants faced difficulty finding workers to staff their kitchens and dining rooms, and that included Crafted Hospitality’s eateries. One day, during a conversation between Craft New York General Manager John Gargano and Smile Farms Managing Director Diana Martin, a light bulb went off!

““John asked me, `Would you be you be up for trying to get some of the Smile Farmers to work at the company’s flagship restaurant, Craft New York, and its adjacent Italian restaurant, Vallata, in Manhattan?”” Diana remembered during a discussion on a recent “Celebrations Chatter” podcast. “And I immediately said yes.”

For an organization known for growing food, an expansion into restaurants seemed like a natural path.

From farmers to polishers

Smile Farm workers go through the same process as everyone else applying for a job with Craft, and that includes submitting resumes and going on interviews, and if they are hired, going through an onboarding process.

The first Smile Farm restaurant workers initially served as polishers, which involved shining the glassware for the tables, a crucial job at a high-end restaurant: “Everything has to be perfect,” Gargano says.

Among the first to be hired was Emmanuel “Manny” Irick. And according to Gargano, Manny, and those who have since followed Manny’s path have been extremely beneficial to the restaurant.

manny smile farms kitchen

As a result of the success, Crafted Hospitality is on the way to expanding the program to its other restaurants in New York City. And not only is it hiring more workers but also beginning to promote, starting with Manny. “He was moved to kitchen prep, which is amazing,” Diana says. “Manny took it upon himself, went to the chef, and said he wanted to learn how to do kitchen prep, and he loves his new position.”

From farmers to shippers

smile farms hot sauce

Not only is Smile Farms moving into the restaurant business, it’s also hiring people with disabilities to help box and ship orders of the organization’s “Heat with Heart” hot sauce, a tantalizing and tasty condiment with 100% of the proceeds of sales going back to Smile Farms.  

“Because of the sheer number of bottles produced and orders submitted, there was a realization that the program needed more packers and shippers to fulfill all the orders,” Diana told us. “In an effort to cut the costs associated with fulfillment and to ensure the maximum funds go back to our programs, we hired six ‘Smile Shippers’ to pack, ship, and deliver all ‘Heat with Heart’ orders.”

Diana says the Shippers add a special touch to the packaging. “There’s a sticker that we put on each of the boxes, and the Shippers personalize it by signing their name to it. When the order is received, the customers know that a person with a developmental disability has packaged the hot sauce for them.”

A crazy idea for socks

Last year, we became aware of another inspirational business, John’s Crazy Socks, which was conceived by John Lee Cronin, who has Down syndrome. “John was trying to figure out what he wanted to do after he graduated from high school and a vocational school,” John’s dad, Mark Cronin, told Jim. “He didn’t like the choices he had, so he came to me and said, ‘I want to go into business with you.’”

smile farms johns crazy socks jim john

John said that the two of them had worked together before and they thought the best way to find a job John would love would be to create one. John’s idea literally landed at his feet.

He came to me and suggested selling crazy socks, and he even had a name for the company. When I asked him why crazy socks, he said, ‘I’ve been wearing them my whole life. They are fun, and they let me be me.’

– Mark Cronin

The father and son worked together to build a website, and they found suppliers to sell them inventory. They opened bank accounts and filed with the State of New York. The only marketing they did was setting up a Facebook page. John, who now works as the company’s Chief Happiness Officer, came up with their catchphrase: “Socks, socks and more socks.

Besides hiring people with disabilities, John’s Crazy Socks also donates 5% of its earnings to the Special Olympics.

We have a social mission and a retail mission, and they are indivisible. We want to show what is possible when you give someone a chance. We’re creating jobs for people with disabilities, and every day we demonstrate what people with intellectual disabilities can do.

– Mark Cronin

We are delighted to team up with John’s Crazy Socks at 1-800-Flowers.com.

johns crazy socks un graphic

Contributing in the workplace and communities

Both Smile Farms and John’s Crazy Socks are raising awareness of the employment challenges faced by people with disabilities and doing something about it. By buying products from these great organizations and their partners, you can help too!

All the best,

Chris & Jim


Jim McCann is the founder, CEO, and chairman of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. as well as a business leader, author, and philanthropist with a passion for helping people deliver smiles. Devoted to helping others, he also founded Smile Farms, a 501(c)3 organization that provides meaningful jobs in agricultural settings to young adults and adults with developmental disabilities.

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