PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A Phoenix chef whose diner focuses on providing meals to homebound cancer patients is struggling to reopen due to a doubling of demand during the pandemic and needs help from the public.
Chef Jennifer Caraway launched her nonprofit charity the JoyBus in 2011 and initially operated out of her kitchen for the first few years. Caraway named the JoyBus after her dear friend Joy, who struggled with the debilitating side effects of ovarian cancer.
Caraway made it a goal to use her talents as a chef to help those affected by cancer. Since 2011, Caraway has used JoyBus to deliver healthy and fresh meals to homebound cancer patients, delivered by a friendly and familiar face. By 2015, the demand outgrew Caraway's kitchen, and the JoyBus Diner was established. Now, after a decade of serving those in need, Caraway says it's been a rewarding, exhausting, and absolutely perfect journey.
"If I had known how much work it would have been, I may have thought twice, but I am so glad I was naïve to the amount of struggle it would take to make it this far," Caraway said. We unknowingly created a community that I am honored to be a part of. Our clients, volunteers, donors and diners have turned into family. It is a surreal feeling to be surrounded by so many good humans and I remind myself daily how truly lucky we are."
But then the pandemic hit, and like many small businesses and nonprofits, Caraway's business was impacted. Her diner had to close, but the need to serve meals continued. Caraway and her team faced a doubling of demand from about 50 meals a week to nearly 100 meals. Caraway even added an additional delivery day to patient's meal service so none of their patients would be on a waiting list. Still, Caraway, like many, faced unprecedented struggles to stay afloat.
"Apart from the obvious of losing people whom I absolutely adored, the biggest struggle was keeping sane. It was a dark ride for the first six months... The (restaurant) industry that I have been a part of my entire working career was crumbling before our eyes. It was heartbreaking and extremely difficult to navigate the waters," Caraway explained. "Never in my life has it been so difficult to do the right thing. As humans, we are empathetic creatures and can easily cruise through each day by choosing to do what our moral compass suggests is 'right.' The pandemic became so politicized that what you thought would be the right thing changed daily. It was definitely a struggle to not completely lose it."
Caraway has been able to save roughly two months of operating expenses, with hopes of being able to reopen her diner to the public early in August. On average, it takes about $40,000 a month to run Caraway's diner, so she's looking for sponsors and donations to help reopen and be able to serve up more of the community again.
After reopening, Caraway wants to reestablish a steady source of revenue to help fund her charity programs, which doubled over the pandemic while the funds were depleted.
"We are hopeful that we will be here 10, 20, 50 years from now to help more in need," Caraway said.