Cole Riley is in the business of helping people. More specifically (and perhaps more ambitiously), he’s setting out to change America’s food system — one ‘Better Box’ at a time.

Riley’s passion and interest in making better-for-you food options more widely available to the general public began in the early days of the pandemic in 2020 when he launched Founders Give, an initiative designed to provide a direct pipeline between healthier food brands and New York City’s frontline workers.

This idea evolved, as the pandemic waned, into Wellfare — a nonprofit organization on a mission to solve food insecurity and transform the state of grocery and nutrition in low-income communities across the country.

“There is an incredible opportunity here to reimagine how we approach food insecurity as a country,” Riley said. “Traditional food pantries aren’t cutting it and natural food brands determined to give back have yet to be mobilized in any significant way.”

We caught up with him to learn more about Wellfare’s latest developments and what’s ahead for the disruptive nonprofit.

What is the Better Box?

The first step in Wellfare’s fight against food insecurity is the Better Box, the first-of-its-kind free food program for low-income families focused on premium, functional, and nutritious packaged groceries. Each Better Box includes over $250 worth of low-sugar, low-salt, and low-fat products like plant-based milk, nutrition bars, flavored seltzers, and protein-packed pasta donated from Wellfare’s growing roster of brand partners. Alongside the goods are curated flyers with nutrition tips, wellness guides, and coupons. Better Boxes are available to enrolled families from a convenient popup distribution outpost in the community. So far, the program has reached 1,600 households with plans to double by the end of 2023. 

Direct-to-need goods

Riley is no stranger to working alongside DTC brands and more importantly, helping them create a direct, robust pipeline to hungry consumers. “At Wellfare, we call it ‘direct-to-need,” Riley said. “We partner with the brands, we house the product, we pack the boxes and we deliver to families in need that we sign up. We’re ditching outsourcing and community collaboration in favor of direct impact and transparency brands can literally see and measure.”

Some of the brands Wellfare has partnered with include Aura Bora, Sanzo, Bare Bones, Lemon Perfect, KIND, Partake Foods, Dole Sunshine, Whisps, La Croix, Vital Proteins, and others.

A multipurpose warehouse

In 2022, Welfare opened the doors of its new warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. With community building in Wellfare’s DNA, Riley plans to use the space for more than just product storage. “It’s a cool spot for a lot of brands to come and hang,” Riley said. “I envision it to be more than just an operations space but also a hub for founders and mission-driven brands.”

How brands can make a difference beyond products

In addition to the more than 100 product donation partnerships that Wellfare has forged in the few years since launching, the organization is charting a course for record growth through its corporate “Day of Service” volunteer events. Brands and companies from across the consumer goods industry and beyond are invited to partner with Wellfare, activate their team for a volunteer fulfillment shift, and help support the mission and growth goals with a tax-deductible financial contribution.

Looking ahead

Wellfare’s mission (coupled with Riley’s steadfast vision) is nothing short of lofty. Riley hopes to position Wellfare for long-term success and to eventually pilot a first-of-its-kind brick-and-mortar grocery in 2024.

“Today we’re laying the groundwork for an incredibly exciting future,” Riley said. “We’re building the modern food nonprofit, one that’s lean, ambitious, and innovative — and we’re determined to solve the issue of food insecurity in this country for good.”

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