Cole Riley of Wellfare talks with Didi Richards
HSS x Wellfare x Liberty Distribution Event on Saturday, April 15, 2023 (Photo by Nicole Pereira)

Cole Riley of Wellfare Talks Nets, Liberty Partnership, Supporting the Community and More

On Nov. 18, Cam Johnson joined Wellfare, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and the Brooklyn Nets to hand out food in the Marcy Houses in Brooklyn. During the event, Cole Riley of Wellfare spoke with the media on hand. Here’s our conversation:

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Brian Fleurantin, Nets Republic and The Local W: This is the second event this year you’ve done with the Nets and Liberty. How have you liked the partnership you guys have built together in this time?

Cole Riley, Wellfare: We’re a Brooklyn-based nonprofit working with the Brooklyn Nets. It’s like a partnership made in heaven. And being able to collaborate with not only the Nets, the Liberty but also Hospital for Special Surgery and create these types of very unique distribution days with healthy food and health and wellness resources, it’s awesome. It’s awesome. And when you bring out a player like Cam Johnson, it brings some visibility to our organization. It’s been a great partnership, and we’re going to continue it for as long as we can.

BF: Just thinking back to the event in Harlem and now in Marcy, just being able to work with folks in public housing. How have you seen that connection being so vital to what you do?

CR: It’s everything. As a nonprofit, we pride ourselves on program, the Better Box and our relationship with the customer. It’s not just about getting food out and taking credit for impact. It’s about actually talking to, hearing from, and delivering to families and hearing what they want and what they need.

And the relationship with public housing households across the city, that’s been our core customer since we launched in ’21. And we know that these types of products, healthy snacks, healthy drinks, low sugar alternatives to what’s ubiquitous in these types of communities, we know they make an incredible impact. So, it’s been great having this focus. And Marcy Houses and the homes here, it’s just another family that we can reach.

BF: In New York City, we’re in a particularly unique time with more budget cuts coming down the line. Now that folks are dealing with more stringent circumstances, how do you think you’d be able to sort of almost work as a bridge in a sense for them?

CR: Families are already operating on tight budgets. Whether it’s cash in their pocket, or those SNAP EBT cards, they’re trying to find good nutritious options at prices they can actually afford. And the budget just continues to get tighter and tighter. We’re delivering $250 worth of better-for-you nutritious packaged goods every month. That’s a huge gap filler for a family with a couple kids, throw a couple Kind bars, some liquid IV, some vital proteins in the bag makes a huge difference especially as the budget gets tighter.

Hospital for Special Surgery at Brooklyn Nets event
HSS x Wellfare x Liberty Distribution Event on Saturday, April 15, 2023 (Photo by Nicole Pereira)

BF: With HSS here, we have a medical component attached to it as well. We’ve got folks with the blood pressure clinic, the Lupus Foundation helping out. How do you think that medical piece helps sort of bring on more of an overall holistic approach?

CR: Working with Hospital for Special Surgery allows us to go beyond just food and beverage and talk about more health and wellness. And that’s core to our whole organization. We’re called Wellfare for a reason. W-E-L-L, well. It’s wellness and delivering wellness products, wellness services, and that allows us to be a little bit more 360.

Lucas Kaplan, Netsdaily and Swish Theory: How do you think Wellfare’s approach in terms of, sounds like, merging input from the people you’re serving as well as medical expertise, do you feel that’s unique in the field? And how have you worked to develop that?

CR: Yeah, so most nonprofits don’t really have a relationship with their customer. They’re really just pushing product around. A lot of nonprofits like to take credit for impact and meals delivered and pounds delivered. But they rarely have that one-on-one relationship with the customer like we do. So when we hear over the past couple of years that low-sugar beverages are having the biggest impact on the household, we’re going to procure more beverages and start working with more and more brands like Lemon Perfect and Barcode and Lacroix to get those types of options. And that’s purely because of that one-on-one relationship with the household.

Cam Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets
November 18, 2023: Brooklyn Nets forward Cam Johnson hands out food in Brooklyn. Photo via the Brooklyn Nets.

Peter Sblendorio, New York Daily News: You mentioned having someone like Cam bringing visibility. In what ways does he bring visibility and in what ways does he maybe boost spirits to have someone like him here to give support?

CR: It’s fantastic! Nonprofits, we don’t get a lot of coverage and being able to have a player come down and not just bring visibility, but actually help out. Like we need folks to just pass these boxes. These are 30-pound boxes. So having players from the Nets, from the Liberty, contribute on multiple fronts, it’s all positive for us and it helps us continue to grow the program this year and well beyond.

PS: And have you found that it does boost the spirits of people who come down to these events?

CR: 100%, yeah! Look at today. We’re here at Marcy basketball courts. You’ve got players and kids running around. You’ve got household of kids, they’re coming down. Absolutely. It separates us from other organizations. And right now, it’s Thanksgiving. I think it’s always cool to be able to bring some more happiness right around this time.

LK: Cam, in our conversations with him, has talked about how it’s been a goal of his to help out more in the community. But, being traded and then he played in the World Cup. He just hasn’t had time. What does it mean to not only like you said, show up but do it during the season when they don’t have a lot of free time?

CR: Yeah no, it’s awesome. And it’s a testament to our organization that it’s very easy to plug and play with us. Whether it’s in our warehouse or at these community distributions, we’ve got a huge volunteer cohort that comes out and helps out every month, every week. But then we can have opportunities like this where we can carve out a couple hours on a Saturday where a player like Cam Johnson can help make some type of impact. So, I think that it really shows that we’re a very flexible, dynamic organization. And we appreciate all the help that we can get.

LK: And then to that end, if there are ways people would like to get involved, volunteer, what would you recommend?

CR: Certainly. We’re building one of the largest volunteer cohorts across New York City. And you can head to, sign up to volunteer, come down to our Sunset Park warehouse right next to the training center. Or come out to these distributions. Donate, or if you work with a company, come down and bring your company to volunteer. So is a great place to start.