Joy Bus

A group from the Florence Crittenton Girls Leadership Academy recently joined The Joy Bus staff for a volunteer day to help prepare meals and decorate delivery bags.

Fighting cancer is hard, but imagine not having any family or friends nearby to support you. That’s the impetus behind The Joy Bus, established in 2011 to provide love and help through healthy food.

When creator/owner Jennifer Caraway’s friend Joy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she wanted to do something to show her how much she loved her and let her know that she was there for the long haul. As a chef, Jennifer knew one practical task she could do to assist, and that was to cook and bring her meals.

“Jennifer’s friend had an excellent support system, but it occurred to Jennifer that wasn’t the case for all cancer patients,” Program Director Megan Norton said. “The Joy Bus was founded to offer that type of care and support to cancer patients of all ages.”

It all began with Caraway preparing meals in her home kitchen. Then, as the charity grew, she reached out to friends she’d worked with in the restaurant industry and asked to use their commercial kitchens. In 2016, the organization was cooking so many meals that it opened its own commercial kitchen.

“Jennifer said that since we were going to have to absorb the kitchen’s cost, why not set it up to be an additional revenue stream,” Norton said. “That’s when she came up with the idea for The Joy Bus Diner.” 

The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch to the public and is 100% nonprofit. Every dollar of revenue is generated back into the charity’s meal delivery program. The chefs not only cook for the customers, but they also prepare all the meals for the patients.

Every Wednesday, volunteers pick up the restaurant’s fresh, hot meals and deliver them directly to patients. The food comes packed in a decorated bag, and an insert lists how the ingredients aid in healing while helping to fight cancer.

“We hope to expand by serving more than one meal per week,” Norton said, “but we’re still a small operation, and it’s a growing curve. We’ve had incredible support from the Phoenix restaurant community, and as we’ve dealt with COVID-19, we’re so grateful to others for rallying around our mission.”

Because of the pandemic, The Joy Bus Diner is on hold as it’s too small to accommodate the mandated social distancing requirements. However, to keep their customers happy and their revenue stream flowing, the diner has recently launched a box lunch program. Businesses, organizations and anyone requesting a minimum of 15 meals can order on Monday, and their food will be delivered on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

“Next on our horizon is our November charity gala, which is our largest fundraiser,” Norton said. “This year’s event will be virtual, so we have to be creative.”