Wellfare, a Brooklyn-based non-profit, is working to address the rise in food insecurity in New York City with a model more typical to takeout: direct-to-door delivery.
When Wellfare founders Cole Riley and Eva Kerner were working at their previous organization Founders Give last spring -- where they delivered food to 51 hospitals feeding over 100,000 healthcare workers and patients -- they saw food pantries starting to close and lines for remaining pantries wrapping around blocks.
"Some of this isn't new — but the lines were getting longer," Riley said. "We thought we could build a better solution to feeding those in need."
Using the direct-to-door model not only puts the food directly in the hands of the consumer, it is accessible for the elderly, the disabled, and others who can't wait in long lines, he said.
Since launching early this year, Wellfare has served over 1,000 households every two weeks.
With millions of New Yorkers facing food insecurity, the team knew it was best to start small and serve public housing developments while they work on expanding. During the height of the COVID pandemic, 1.5 million New Yorkers could not afford to buy food, and food insecure families were further burdened by the closure of 40% of NYC food pantries in 2020.
Kerner said an informal survey the team did of 400 families in the 11206 ZIP code showed there was an overlap between folks in public housing and those on food stamps. And those on SNAP benefits were really trying to stretch their benefits through the month to get their families the food they needed.
Wellfare aims to take out the stress involved in stretching SNAP budgets, waiting on food pantries, and traveling to various supermarkets across the city. Many of the organization's subscribers have diabetes, heart disease and other medical issues, which makes it difficult to find foods that adhere to these particular dietary restrictions, the team said.
But the aim with Wellfare is to make it easier on the consumer. "A lot of people are telling us that that they want organic nutritious food and drink, so that's what we're bringing them into these boxes," Kerner said. And since launching, Wellfare has also performed regular check-ins with its subscribers and the households it serves.
Currently, the goal is to perfect the model in both Bushwick and Williamsburg before expanding across Brooklyn and, in the future, across New York City.
Wellfare is only in its third month of operations, but subscribers have become accustomed to the repeat deliveries that arrive through volunteers. While many other food programs only offer limited subscriptions or one-off meals, the attraction of Wellfare is the continuous delivery service of free, fresh food every two weeks.
Kerner said it was about establishing a sense of longevity and reliability in its communities.
"We're developing a relationship of trust with them and they know that's going somewhere," she said.