2015 Movers & Shakers - Jennifer Caraway

Written by Gwen Ashley Walters Category: People Issue: October 2015
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Joy Spreader

You’d never guess Jennifer Caraway was a former punk rocker. Oh, she is, no doubt, a tour de force, but instead of banging out quarter notes on her electric bass, these days Caraway is banging out chef-inspired meals for homebound cancer patients through her nonprofit, The Joy Bus (thejoybus.org). In 2011, as Caraway watched her friend, Joy Seitz-Butts, slowly but gracefully die of ovarian cancer, she made a promise that something good would come from her death. Caraway had been delivering home-cooked meals to Joy, and realized that the meal – as well as the conversation – brought much, well, joy, to them both.

And, so, The Joy Bus was born – a service that delivers meals and encouragement to the terminally ill. “We all need a purpose,” Caraway says. “I’m just happy I found mine.”

In the beginning, the bus was slow to get moving. Caraway contacted a bevy of local farmers for fresh produce donations, but none of them said yes until she approached Crooked Sky Farms, who not only said “of course!” on the spot, but who still provides Caraway with all the weekly fresh produce she needs. Caraway initially cooked and delivered all the meals, schlepping from Buckeye to Mesa, which proved a strain on her full-time job with a food distributor, and her 24/7 job as a single mother to two teenagers. So she built a network of delivery volunteers and assembled a board of directors that includes culinary community greats Tracy Dempsey and Bernie Kantak. Four years later, the Joy Bus has a permanent kitchen, and Caraway has given up her full-time job to steer the nonprofit into the future.

“I have this lady, Bobbie, that I deliver meals to, and a couple weeks ago she said to me, ‘I can’t afford to go out to eat, even if I had the strength to go out, but every Friday, when you bring me food, it’s like I’m going out to a fancy restaurant. It’s my night out.’ I mean, isn’t that awesome? That’s why I do it.”

And she didn’t completely give up on music. Caraway still plays bass in her church’s band. If only her old friends, including Joy, could see her now.