The breakfast-and-lunch joint The Joy Bus Diner shut down last March. But its north Phoenix space didn’t lie dormant. The Joy Bus — the nonprofit that runs the diner — has utilized the space ever since for meal deliveries.
Volunteers crowd into the restaurant every Wednesday and Thursday morning. They chat among each other, laugh, drink coffee, and place packaged meals into brown paper bags adorned with hand-colored drawings and words of encouragement like, “Life is tough, so are you,” and “Keep smiling.” These healthy and seasonal meals are then delivered to approximately 100 homebound cancer patients every week.
Now, though, the diner has plans to resume service. Lisa Coughlin, community outreach and dining manager of The Joy Bus, says the restaurant will reopen sometime in August or September. The menu will remain the same, but guests can expect “specials,” Coughlin says.
Demand for the meal program has doubled this past year, from 50 meals to 100 meals per week, says Coughlin. To accommodate the growing need, The Joy Bus added a second delivery day to its schedule. Volunteers deliver meals on Wednesdays and Thursdays to homes within a 10-mile radius of Copper Hills Church in Peoria. They also have partnerships with the Phoenix Cancer Support Network, Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, and Banner Desert Medical Ridge.
But the volunteers do more than deliver fresh, organic, “chef-inspired” meals, Coughlin says. They also provide companionship and support to patients and sometimes their caregivers.
Volunteer Cherry Dellios has chatted with patients or family members on their front patios while keeping plenty of distance. She recalls spending an hour talking with a patient’s wife and looking at their vacation photos together.
“Sometimes she cries, but most of the time she’s really uplifted and thankful,” Dellios says.
Dellios has volunteered for The Joy Bus for over two years. She owns Wild Thing Botanicals and donates flower bouquets that accompany the meals.
The point of delivering meals is to provide “personal contact,” says Stephen “Steve” Gerst, a Joy Bus volunteer since 2016. He says he asks people how they are doing and will provide his phone number to let the person know they have someone they can contact if they need help. Dellios says she does the same thing.
“I always tell them that if there’s anything you need, groceries or anything,” she says. “It’s one more avenue for someone to talk to.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for The Joy Bus can choose from multiple volunteer opportunities, including delivering a meal, picking up produce from Crooked Sky Farms, or hosting and prepping at the diner when it reopens. Coughlin says the restaurant is hiring and accepting applications.
Jennifer Caraway created the diner after founding The Joy Bus nonprofit in 2011 to honor the death of her friend, Joy, who died of ovarian cancer. Caraway, an award-winning chef and cookbook author, grew the nonprofit from her kitchen, where she started with just a few homemade meals. Later, she rented a commercial space and opened the diner, where all proceeds go back to the charity.
The Joy Bus Diner
3375 East Shea Boulevard, 602-595-5884
Open Thursday to Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Starting in August or September.