Afton nonprofit expands into ex-supermarket

Associated Press A former grocery store 154 Main St. in Afton, shown Thursday, was recently purchase by HALos, Inc., a nonprofit organization.

A Chenango County organization dedicated to serving community members grieving the loss of a loved one is looking to bring life back to Afton.

Help After Loss — better known as HALos, Inc. — a nonprofit grief resource and referral organization based in Afton, recently purchased the 154 Main St. property that formerly housed the village’s Great American grocery store.

HALos was organized as a nonprofit in 2000, according to its founder, Joyce Humphrey. A bereaved parent herself, Humphrey said she was moved to found the HALos while recovering from the grief of losing her 15-year-old son, Jeffrey, who drowned in 1993.

“I believe it’s never too soon and no time is too long,” she said. “When we bury a child, it’s very difficult. As a parent, it stays with you.”

Humphrey, who worked for Chenango County’s Head Start program until June, said she had more HALos clients than Head Start clients by the time she retired.

HALos purchased the former grocery store in June but likely will not close on the deal until August, Humphrey said. The organization operates out of a spare bedroom in her home but has outgrown the space, she said.

By transforming the property into offices and community rooms for HALos, Humphrey said she hopes the permanent space will allow the organization to expand its programming and improve the quality of services offered to the community.

“We’re already talking about doing some new things,” Humphrey said.

The organization hosts an annual grief camp and facilitates commemoration events, she said, and the board of directors is exploring services for foster children and families, including designating a space for foster children to meet with their biological families in a neutral, supervised area.

Humphrey said she hopes to attract other local businesses to rent the “newly renovated, reasonably priced” space, and is already in contact with a discount grocery store looking to move in.

“We’re looking to strengthen the local economy, rebuild the community and develop a consistent source of funding through rental fees,” she said. “It’s great to bring business back in Afton.”

The Great American, Afton’s only grocery store, closed its doors last January. A Dollar General opened less than a mile down the road the following September, but the nearest full-service grocery store, Price Chopper, is 10 miles away in Sidney.

Building renovations are expected to take place throughout the winter in hopes of opening the grocery store in early spring, Humphrey said.

HALos is seeking in-kind donations of building supplies, paint and gift certificates to be used for fundraising events to reach its $200,000 goal.

The organization is also recruiting volunteers to attend planning meetings, help with renovations, clerical work or other specific services.

Donations can be made via PayPal on the organization’s website, helpafterloss.com.

For more information, contact 607-639-4256, 607-240-1550 or HALosOrg@aol.com.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.