With food insecurity spiking in Bushwick and throughout New York, a new direct-to-consumer food pantry named Wellfare has emerged to deliver free nutritious food and beverages to thousands of hungry Brooklynites.

Wellfare, which officially started in early 2021, operates similarly to Hello Fresh, Misfits Market or any other popular grocery box delivery service. Every other week, subscribers receive a box full of packaged snacks, drinks and pantry goods, including things like water, pasta, fruit snacks, protein bars, coffee, tea, chips and more.

Until it perfects its system, Wellfare is currently focusing on delivering to people in public housing developments in the 11206 zip code, which includes parts of Bushwick, East Williamsburg, Williamsburg and Bedford–Stuyvesant.

Marcy Houses on 452 Marcy Avenue in Bed-Stuy is among the public housing developments targeted by the nonprofit startup Wellfare. (Google Maps)

“These are families who are food insecure, who are waiting in line at food pantries. What we’re doing is bringing the pantry right to their doors,” said Cole Riley, who co-founded the nonprofit with his business partner Eva Kerner.

Wellfare is partnered with over 300 healthy food and drink brands that each donate some of their goods to Wellfare. Workers and volunteers at Wellfare’s warehouse, which is located in Long Island City, pack those donated goods into boxes, which are then hand-delivered by workers and volunteers to families in need.

“Over the course of a couple of deliveries, we are able to receive direct feedback from subscribers that tell us how they like the food, when they are eating it, who in their household is eating it and how it has impacted the rest of their grocery purchases,” said Kerner.

The idea for Wellfare came last summer when Riley was heading the Founders Give Campaign, a group that provided healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic with free food and drinks.

“Throughout the pandemic, we saw the food pantry lines getting longer, and we saw a lot of food pantries closing up shop,” said Riley.

There are lots of barriers that make it difficult for food pantries to be sustainable, Riley added. It is very difficult for them to source products, there isn’t a lot of money going around and food pantries don’t always know their customers.

Ultimately, Wellfare seeks to modernize and iron out the wrinkles in an antiquated food pantry system. The organization plans to eventually expand throughout New York and even all of the United States. But it will keep its operations confined to the 11206 for now, said Riley.

Wellfare is always seeking volunteers to help out in one of three ways. Volunteers can either help up boxes in the organization’s Long Island City warehouse, help deliver boxes on Saturdays or make phone calls to help people register and check in with existing subscribers. Those interested in volunteering can click here. Those interested in donating can click here. Those who live in public housing and are interested in signing up for the program can do so here.

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Top photo credit: Wellfare

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