Arizona Woman Creates Food Delivery Program That Brings Joy to Homebound Cancer Patients

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Arizona Woman Creates Food Delivery Program That Brings Joy to Homebound Cancer Patients

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The Joy Bus began in 2011 when founder Jennifer Caraway’s friend, Joy, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. While she was receiving treatment, Jennifer noticed the struggle that Joy experienced, particularly with meal preparation and nutrition and began delivering meals to her friend to assist her through such a difficult time. Sadly, Joy passed away, but her drive and determination has continued to serve as an inspiration and teach us the soul healing powers of a hot, delicious meal and a compassionate, smiling face.

It is a heartbreaking reality that many cancer patients in Phoenix are left without a strong support system during the stresses of cancer diagnosis/treatment, and even for those with families, it is a time of extreme physical and mental stress. Cancer wreaks havoc on the body, often leaving patients weak, sick, and unable to care for themselves through the preparation of healthy meals. The Joy Bus Meal Delivery Program uniquely meets the crucial needs for social support and proper nutrition after a cancer diagnosis. We are the ONLY organization of our kind in Arizona working diligently to improve the quality of life of homebound cancer patients by not only providing delicious, healthful food but also personal attention, companionship, and education on the healing power of food. Through partnerships with community organizations, The Joy Bus Meal Delivery Program delivers a freshly prepared meal to homebound cancer patients each week in eco-friendly and chemical free packaging with the help of an amazing group of compassionate volunteers.

Q&A

 

1. How and why did you start the Joy Bus Meal Delivery Program?

I started the Joy Bus late 2011. I was inspired by the grace and tenacious character of my good friend Joy to create a much-needed service in her honor. Joy was surrounded by support and I became quickly aware that not everyone was surrounded by such love and care, so thus The Joy Bus erupted.

My background is in the food service industry, from washing dishes to owning several establishments, so when Joy became ill my way of showing love was with food. After Joy’s passing in February of 2012, I began with two initial clients, unfortunately at opposite ends of the city, but I was fortunate enough to have flexibility in my work schedule that allowed me to play hooky every Friday so that I could prepare and deliver meals to those in need.

One of our first deliveries (other than to Joy) was to a man in Buckeye named Rafael…He was geographically located in an area that was far from close to my imaginary line for delivery. I explained to his daughter that I could not go that far and after much persistence on her part, I gave in and made the trek. On this trip to meet Rafael with his delivery of organic goodness, I left my wallet at home, ran out of gas and got lost! I convinced my bank to give me $20 (sans ID), filled my tank and finally found Rafael’s home all the while telling myself that I am going to have to explain to Rafael’s family that I can no longer make the trip each week. Well, when I finally did get to the door Rafael’s wife hugged me harder than I’ve every been hugged. With joyful tears, she thanked me profusely for my visit. It was this moment that not only kept me going back to visit Rafael until his passing one year later, but that solidified my drive towards creating a mission that promoted the benefits of good food and provided hope and companionship in a time of despair.

One small step of helping a friend in need turned into an organization that has made over 5300 home visits to cancer patients in the Phoenix area since our inception. I slowly (over the next 3 years) built our client base and supporters alike to ensure a successful transition into a full-scale operation. To this day, we still receive donated organic produce from Crooked Sky Farms for not only our patient meals but the diner alike. Our generous donors and community partners have been crucial to our growth. We still deliver every Friday and continue to grow with each passing week.

2. The program is more than just food delivery. Tell us about it and why what you’re doing is so essential for homebound cancer patients?

An important aspect of our medically tailored meal program is the human interaction between our volunteers and our clients. Initially, my idea was purely about the food, not realizing the importance of the human element. I was lucky enough to surround myself with people much smarter than I whom have taken ownership of our mission and added a much-needed companionship aspect to each delivery. Our volunteers are essentially providing not only a wellness check on our clients, but showing them with each visit that there is a huge community of amazing humans that care deeply about their well being. I will be forever grateful to the volunteers who turned my simple idea into one of compassion and community. We wouldn’t be here today without their (the volunteers) continuous dedication to our mission, from the volunteer prep cooks to our friends delivering meals to the local school kiddos who decorate each and every delivery bag with their joyful art.

3. Tell us about the fresh, healthy food you deliver to your clients

The food we deliver is made with the organic veggies donated by Farmer Frank Martin of Crooked Sky Farms. We include a menu with each delivery that highlights one ingredient. For example “Turmeric is included in today’s meal because of this, this and this”…We are trying to educate our clients on the healing power of real food so that they can implement those ingredients in their daily cooking. Our meals are beautiful in color and nutrients.

4. How many people do you deliver to on a daily basis?

For the first year, I was doing roughly 2-4 home visits each week (while working one full-time job and two part-time jobs, as well as being a single mom)…We grew to roughly 10-15 home visits each week over the next few years and with the opening of the diner in July of 2016, we have increased to over 50 home visits per week and over 5200 meals.

5. Talk about the Joy Bus Diner and how that supports your program.

The Diner was conceptualized as a way to support our mission. The need for the diner came about as we grew out of space in my home kitchen and donated kitchens around the valley. The idea was that we were going to incur the cost of kitchen lease regardless, so why not turn it into a full-service breakfast and lunch spot and have 100% of the proceeds fund our free programs for homebound cancer patients? Every pancake breakfast you purchase funds our programs. Although we still make our home visits every Friday, our patients are able to come to the diner any other day of the week and feast (free of charge) on our Board Vice President Dr. Dan Rubin’s recommendations. (Dr. Rubin just so happens to be one of the top naturopathic oncologists in the nation.) Our diner menu has seven Dr. Dan-approved items for our clients to choose from when they choose to dine in.


For more information about the Joy Bus, go to thejoybus.org

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