Here’s how the Joy Bus helps home-bound cancer patients
The Joy Bus organization is a nonprofit in the valley that provides free gourmet, fresh, hand-delivered meals to home-bound cancer patients. The idea was created by renowned chef and winner of ‘Chopped’ TV series Jennifer Caraway in 2011. The idea came to her after her dear friend Joy Seitz-Butz passed away from ovarian cancer and Caraway realized that she wanted to help others in what is one of the most debilitating health battles a human can go through. What started as Caraway cooking meals from home and delivering them to just a couple of cancer patients by herself has turned into an entire organization. “Me being open-minded enough to allow the community to have an opinion is what has brought The Joy Bus where it is today, my idea was just about giving meals and now we are so much bigger than that,” said Caraway.
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Caraway opened her diner called The Joy Bus Diner in 2016, currently located off State Route 51 and Shea Boulevard. All proceeds from food sales go to funding the non-profit's activities and the facility is also where home meals are prepared for delivery every week on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Not only do patients get a freshly cooked, organic meal, but it is delivered in eco-friendly hand-decorated packaging accompanied by a dessert, a bouquet, and a friendly volunteer. “Cancer takes away the ability of most patients to eat fancy meals not only because of strain on finances but because they are physically too weak so patients value this special visit,” said Caraway.
During meal deliveries, volunteers take time to get to know their patients one-on-one, do little tasks around their houses, do wellness checks, and do anything else they can do within their means to make sure these patients do not feel alone. Caraway outlined her philosophy behind The Joy Bus in a book she wrote called “More than a Meal,” which said human contact is just as important as human nourishment. Megan Norton, Program Director of The Joy Bus said, “Our work is unique because we are all so dedicated to making sure the patients feel truly supported, they can get not only a meal, but a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, or even someone to help with small tasks like grabbing the mail- we make sure cancer patients in the Valley have that extra support and aren't going through treatment alone.”
Mike Labrasca, a long-time volunteer at Joy Bus describes the meaning of ‘More’ in More Than A Meal as being all about genuine compassion, “the interaction, the talking to the lonely, the listening to people battling cancer is the more part… the more part is having compassion for another human,”. Labrasca has been a volunteer at The Joy Bus for seven years now, he shared that the opportunity to work face-to-face and help people is “a hard thing to find and its humbling,”.
61-year-old Mia Kosa battles cancer of the throat, kidney, and breast and has been in The Joy Bus meal program for over a year now. Sometimes her only human interaction throughout the week (besides doctor's visits) is her weekly visits from The Joy Bus. When asked how these weekly visits make her feel, Kosa stated “I feel pure joy, there is no better name for them than The Joy Bus. I love when they show up at my door, I feel so grateful for everything they have done for me. It has been nice to have this support and company through my battle, I feel so loved when I open my door and my cats love it too,”. What takes an average of 1-2 hours of a Joy Bus volunteer's day, can make a cancer patient feel supported, loved, and comforted throughout their battle.
Now the organization has big expansion plans after 12 years of becoming a tight-knit community of volunteers. The volunteers, chefs, and team members' ultimate goal is to help as many cancer patients as possible through their journey in an economically sustainable way. What started with Caraway cooking and delivering meals by herself, led to a large network of loyal volunteers, donors, and chefs taking part. Along with volunteers and donors, the Joybus partnered with Crooked Sky Farms, Red Bird Chicken, Gluten Free Bakery Creations, Tracy Dempsey Originals, The Gladly, Civitan Foundation, and other restaurants in the valley which provide produce and proteins to prepare meals.
Caraway is currently in the middle of a funding drive to raise $5.4 million to purchase a bigger diner, grow its meal program, and ultimately help more patients. “I am so excited for a bigger and better space, this is going to allow us to take on a much bigger role in the community and help so many more people,” said Caraway.
JoAnna McCarthy who manages the Joy Bus Diner stated that “Currently, we are providing close to 600 meals and home visits monthly and when we transition to our larger facility, we will be able to accommodate 2000 meals a month, by 2026, the ultimate goal is to be able to provide 2500 meals per week,”.
McCarthy has been a part of The Joy Bus for a year and a half now, she was introduced to Caraway through her mom, who donated fresh jams to the diner. At the time, Caraway was looking for a general manager for the diner, and McCarthy has 20 years of restaurant experience. Working with The Joy Bus has been very impactful for McCarthy, “Joining her mission was a blessing for me and touched me personally because I lost my husband almost two years ago and being a part of something bigger than me to help others was a gift, I strive to help the mission grow in any way I can,” she said.
So far, this campaign has raised over $1.6 million and the organization was able to purchase a new 4,000-square-foot site. The largest donor has been ‘The Virginia E. Piper Charitable Trust’ which donated over $250,000 towards the campaign. Construction has begun
on what will be the site of the new Joy Bus Diner. With regard to their current loyal Joy Bus customers and volunteers, they did not want to purchase a site too far from the original diner. The site they purchased is only a seven-minute walk from the current diner.
Plans are to build a much larger kitchen, purchase a fully-equipped delivery van, have a free organic food pantry for all cancer patients, and more. Once the site is remodeled and equipped with upgraded equipment, pantry space, and kitchen space, improvements will lead them to the capability of delivering a much larger number of meals.
According to Carol Welch, the volunteer coordinator, any cancer patient within a 15-mile radius of The Joy Bus Diner is currently accepted into the meal program. “The most exciting part of being a member of The Joy Bus is watching the continued growth of the organization, and being able to support so many people,” said Welch. To find out more about The Joy Bus organization, visit www.thejoybusdiner.com.