Five years ago, Jennifer Caraway had two simple reasons to cook for a friend fighting cancer: She wanted to help fight the disease with powerful nutrients. And, to Caraway, there’s no better way to show compassion than with a home-cooked meal.
“Food is medicine and love,” Caraway says. “I tried to help her fight cancer with good food, good friendship.”
Although her friend, Joy Seitz-Butts, died of an aggressive ovarian cancer, Caraway continued cooking and delivering fresh, nutrient-packed meals to others battling debilitating illnesses.
Shortly after her friend’s death, Caraway founded the Joy Bus, a nonprofit meal-delivery service for those too sick to leave their homes. Caraway, a former restaurant owner and sales representative for a gourmet-food distributor, and a growing cadre of volunteers cooked and delivered meals from the kitchen of her Phoenix home.
She quickly realized how difficult it can be for a nonprofit to depend on donations to stay afloat. Her solution? Last summer, Caraway opened Joy Bus Diner, the Valley’s only nonprofit restaurant, and uses the money it makes to underwrite her food-delivery service.
“My goal is to be self-sustaining, to not have to beg corporations for donations and support. We’re very close to that goal,” she says.
Joy Bus has succeeded, in large part, through a groundswell of support. Restaurateur Sam Fox donated tables and chairs to the north Phoenix diner. Many of the Valley’s top chefs — from James-Beard-award-winning Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco, Gio Osso of Virtu to Bernie Kantak of the Gladly — cook in the Joy Bus kitchen for the Friday deliveries.
Fifty volunteers lend a hand preparing and delivering as many as 5,000 meals a year. School children decorate the delivery bags with drawings. Frank Martin, farmer and owner of Blue Sky Farms, donates all the vegetables for the restaurant and delivered meals.
Arizona-based Hickman Farms donates the eggs to the breakfast and lunch diner east of State Route 51 on Shea Boulevard. One Valley restaurant a month donates proceeds from the sale of a single menu item to Joy Bus.
“This is a project that is very dear to many of us. It’s our way of giving back,” says pastry chef Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals and a Joy Bus board member.
Caraway’s mission is unabashedly evangelistic. She delivers an educational message with each meal about a key ingredient, from the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric to broccoli’s ability to flush out cancer-causing chemicals.
“I began reading about how powerful food can be to prevent and fight cancer when Joy was sick,” she says. “I’m not a nutritionist, but you don’t have to be to understand that food is medicine.”
An increasing number of doctors, nutritionists and scientific studies agree that certain foods, from dark cherries to oatmeal, can help reduce the chance of getting and dying from cancer.
Caraway’s belief that healthy foods heal the body and soul applies to families as well. A single mother of two teenagers, she always sits down with her two children at 5:15 p.m. for “good food and good conversation.”
In the next few years, Caraway hopes to open four more nonprofit restaurants: in the East and West Valley, Tucson and Flagstaff.
“Joy Bus may not be able to cure cancer,” she says, “but we can deliver food and compassion to those fighting the disease.”
Recipes from Joy Bus Diner
3375 E. Shea Blvd., Phoenix • 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays • thejoybusdiner.org
Carol’s Mason Jar Pies
(Note from Jennifer Caraway: “This recipe is from a dear friend who lost her battle to cancer last year. She also gave me the Mason jars that we use to make the pies every week in the diner. I miss her, and I am beyond grateful for her believing in me.”)
- ½-¾ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 5 cups red, tart cherries (canned, save the juice)
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon butter
For pastry crust:
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
- ½ cup chilled Crisco, cut into tablespoon pieces
- 6-8 tablespoons cold water
- 4 half-pint Mason jars
To make crust, mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter and shortening. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of water at a time, using a fork to gradually work the water into the butter, shortening and flour mixture until all the mixture is moist. To ensure a moist, flaky crust, avoid overworking. When mixture holds together when pressed lightly, divide into eight equal-size balls, then flatten each into discs about the size of the bottom of a Mason jar. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour. Before baking, place flattened dough discs into each jar, gently working the dough up the sides of the jar. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
To make the filling, pour sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Stir in cherry juice until well-blended. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Gently stir in cherries and almond extract. Remove from heat. To assemble, pour filling into pastry-lined Mason jars. Place remaining dough discs on top, crimping the edges. Dot with butter. Bake 25 minutes or until crust browns and filling begins to bubble. If necessary, cover edges with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent burning. Cool pie for several hours before serving. Makes 4 servings.
- 4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
- Whole milk to cover
- 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled and flesh shredded
- 3 cups fresh berries
- 1 cup grapes
- 2 tablespoons vanilla
- 2 cups Greek yogurt
In a large mixing bowl or flat-bottomed baking pan, cover oats with double the amount of milk. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Birchir is best served after oats bloom, so place in the refrigerator overnight. If desired, serve with fresh whipped cream, banana slices and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Makes 6-8 servings.
Avocado Woods Toast
- ½ avocado, peeled and seed removed
- 2 splashes of extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Handful of arugula
- 2 grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 poached egg
- Sea salt
- 1 large piece of bread, toasted
Slightly smash avocado, splashed with olive oil, and place on toasted bread. Place arugula on top of avocado. Set aside while poaching the egg. Fill a saucepan about two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Add a small splash of vinegar to the water. Crack the egg into a small measuring cup. Gently ease egg into the water and simmer for about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the water. Pat egg dry before placing it on top of the arugula. Drizzle with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Garnish plate with grape-tomato halves. Makes 1 serving.