In an effort to rally the community, law enforcement agencies across South Carolina have come together to combat hunger and build bridges with the public through nonprofit volunteering.
The initiative is spearheaded by Serve & Connect, a Southern Carolina–based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting positive change through partnerships between police and the community.
The organization was founded by Kassy Alia Ray in honor of her late husband, Forest Acres Police Officer Greg Alia, who was tragically killed the line of duty in 2015.
To continue his legacy of service, Ray initiated the Greg’s Groceries program in 2017, which provides boxes of nonperishable food to police partners across the state for distribution to vulnerable members in their communities. In an interview with WYFF 4, Ray explained how the operation works: “… Each box of food is intended to feed a family of four for a week. They’re pretty big boxes,” she said. “They are packed with love by our police partners. They go back with those officers [and] back to their agencies and they use them — whether they’re on calls, through referrals as part of strategic community outreach — really to support them in doing what they do best, and that’s helping others.”
The initiative began in 2017 with just 50 boxes and two partner agencies and has grown exponentially over the years, with more than 75 agencies participating last year and nearly 5,000 boxes being distributed to those in need.
Ray also spoke on the initiative’s broader purpose of bringing communities together through an important cause.
“One of the unifying factors across all different communities, geographies is hunger and the need for food,” she said. “How food not only can address a need but also bring people together and open that door for trust to grow and hope to be reignited.”
On October 3, Serve & Connect hosted its annual Greg’s Groceries packing day in Columbia, a heartwarming event that saw officers and volunteers pack an impressive 3,000 boxes of groceries — the largest ever packed in a single day.
Several Upstate police departments and sheriff’s offices participated in the event, including the Anderson Police Department, Easley Police Department, Greenwood Police Department, Greenville Police Department, Laurens Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Department and Spartanburg Police Department.
At the event, the Anderson Police Department was recognized as the organization’s 2023–24 Medium-Sized Agency of the Year due to its commitment to volunteering and community outreach.
“It’s about the gift of giving, and what these officers are doing every time that they deliver a box of Greg’s Groceries is they’re delivering hope — hope for the recipient and hope for themselves,” Ray reflected.
Serve & Connect is not only focused on helping to fight hunger but also on fostering relationships between law enforcement, mental health service providers and individuals experiencing mental illness.
Collaborating with the West Columbia Police Department, Cayce Police Department and the University of South Carolina’s College of Social Work, the organization has launched its innovative Social Work Outreach Program.
This initiative enables law enforcement agencies to identify individuals in need and connect them with available services, with the ultimate goal of diverting people experiencing mental illness away from the criminal justice system and into community-based resources.
The program, which was initially launched in Cayce, has shown early success in reaching out to individuals for confidential follow-up after law enforcement interactions.