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The Joy Bus
By Judy Pearson
Every Sunday, when Jennifer Caraway was a little girl, a vehicle called “The Joy Bus” picked her up for Sunday School. Jennifer never imagined that the name of that happy vehicle that brought little children to church, would one day become her 2nd Act.
Fast forward several decades. “My friend Joy was battling aggressive, stage four ovarian cancer. I was desperate to do something, anything, to help her. I’ve worked in the food service industry my entire life. It was just natural that my avenue for comforting Joy in her illness would be through food.”
Furthermore, Jennifer is a firm believer in not only the medicinal value of food, but in the immense comfort it can bring those who need just a little extra love. Joy had a huge support system. Everyone loved her. So much so that her husband cut back his working hours to spend more time with her, and her best friend quit her job to help with care taking duties. Meanwhile Jennifer saw others, also battling cancer, who didn’t have that kind of support system.
Joy fought hard, trying one clinical trial after another. And then the day came when, as with so many women facing that diagnosis, her time on this earth ended.
But not before Jennifer – inspired by Joy’s courage and grace – had given birth to a most creative way to honor her friend and help hundreds of other cancer patients. Remembering “The Joy Bus” that brought her and her childhood friends to the goodness in church, Jennifer launched The Joy Bus Meal Delivery Program.
“We meet the crucial needs for social support and proper nutrition after a cancer diagnosis,” Jennifer says. “We’re the ONLY organization of our kind in Arizona, working to improve the quality of life of homebound cancer patients. We not only provide delicious, healthful food but companionship and education on the healing power of food, too.”
Through their partnerships with community organizations and Crooked Sky Farms, The Joy Bus delivers freshly prepared meals to homebound cancer patients each week in eco-friendly and chemical free packaging. And all prepared by a hardworking corps of compassionate volunteers.
Jennifer marvels,“I am continuously inspired by the people involved with our mission. We focus on the ‘food is medicine’ approach. But our volunteers add an amazing dose of friendship because of the kindness of their hearts.”
It’s a wonderful mission. But it’s not all there is to Jennifer’s creativity. She also opened the Joy Bus Diner.
“We had grown to the point where we needed an industrial kitchen,” she explains.
“So I figured, why not create a business where 100% of all money raised goes back to the meal delivery program?”
Located on Shea Boulevard just east of the 51, the Joy Bus Diner serves up some of the most delicious and nutritious breakfasts and lunches around. Joy’s husband even brought in a picture of his beloved wife to add to the decor.
When The Joy Bus Meal Delivery Program began, hospital case managers and social workers referred 12 to 15 homebound patients per week. But the popularity of the program has caused that number to grow to 40 homes per week.
One of those patients was Carrie, a former ballroom dancer. She knew her disease and treatment had ravaged her appearance, and she didn’t want Jennifer to see her on meal delivery days. But Carrie thrived on the camaraderie they were developing. So when Jennifer would leave the kitchen heading to Carrie’s, she would call her and the two women would chat away on the phone the entire round trip.
One day, the Joy Bus Diner was having a celebrity chef fund raiser. It happened to fall on a day that Carrie – a true foodie – was feeling particularly good. She got all dressed up to attend the event, absolutely losing herself in the presence of so many accomplished chefs. Such relationships are not rare in Jennifer’s world.
“We’ve built a community,” Jennifer says. “Even after patients recover, they come to the diner, as do their families and friends. On any given day, everyone in the place has a connection.” It’s a new twist on six degrees of separation. Cancer is so prevalent in our world, it’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t been touched in one way or another.
The Joy Bus is limited only by capacity. Today, the deliveries are made within a 15 mile radius. But Jennifer hopes to expand to 50 homes a week, with additional kitchens to serve more homebound cancer patients throughout Maricopa Country.
And although Joy isn’t on hand in person, her spirit certainly is, every time The Joy Bus brings goodness to those who need it most.
Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they ] give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.