Meals of Joy board member Jack Kastel shows off meals provided by his Litchfield Park-based organization.

Larry Cervarich was on a meal delivery route in Oregon when he was asked to give the client her food. Cervarich agreed.

He walked to the porch, and the woman slowly opened the door. What Cervarich saw was horrifying.

“There’s a lady, who’s probably 80,” he said. “The house was really dark. The shades were pulled. She looked so lonesome. She reached through the door and said, ‘Thank you,’ and shut the door.

“I stood there and I started to have tears in my eyes. The guy said, ‘It got to you, didn’t it?’ I couldn’t believe this was going on in our world today.”

So a year ago, the now-Goodyear resident founded Meals of Joy, a Litchfield Park-based food delivery service that stresses the importance of seniors and nutrition. It services the West Valley only.

“Seniors are out there struggling. It doesn’t matter where you live,” said Cervarich, 78. “We’re supposed to be a rich state. People come down here to retire. Things change when someone loses their spouse, or there’s a financial crisis.”

To help raise money for the organization, Meals of Joy is hosting the Party of Joy Masquerade Gala on Saturday, October 14, at the Wigwam. It starts at 6 p.m. with a cocktail reception, with dinner following at 7 p.m. Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord and businessman Don Mellon will be honored for their “tremendous impact on the community.” The event is black-tie optional, with prizes awarded for the best mask.”

“The event is one of our biggest of the year that keeps us really moving forward,” said Cervarich, whose charity doesn’t receive federal funding. “We’re very excited about where we’re heading.

“Ninety-five percent of the funds go to the meal program,” he said. “We don’t have a whole lot of overhead. We want to give them a decent meal that they enjoy.”

Meals of Joy has support from Abrazo West and Sun Health at Home, said Cervarich, who also runs Homeless Youth Connection. Meals of Joy serves the 55 and older community and clients do not need to have medical or financial difficulties.

“We’re getting calls from seniors saying they’re tired and they don’t want to cook anymore,” he said. “They’re losing interest in their daily cooking habits.”

Meals of Joy also doesn’t pressure seniors to keep participating. There are no set-up or application fees. All staff asks for is the next of kin, in case a delivery driver sees something wrong.

Colored menus are sent out a month ahead so clients can choose what they want. Cervarich said the only complaint he’s received is that Meals of Joy provides too much food.

“We absolutely do not send any meal that’s frozen,” he added. “At 8 or 9:30 a.m., they arrive at a central office where our volunteers are waiting to deliver immediately.

“In most cases, the meals can’t get any fresher. Some are still warm from being prepared. The containers are microwaveable, though. If they want to freeze them and reheat them later, they can do that.”

Meals run from $11 to $12. The charity will adjust for those who are struggling.

“They can order the meals they would love to eat and not be force fed,” Cervarich said. “The purpose is to choose what they’d like to eat and eat something to get nutrition in their system. If they order one meal in a week that’s one meal they probably wouldn’t have had.”

Cervarich said he’s looking to move the commissary kitchen from Phoenix to the West Valley to better serve his needs. For now, though, he’s focusing on Homeless Youth Connection and Meals of Joy.

“What we really want to do is help seniors stay in their own home and not be off to a nursing home,” he said. “We want them to feel their home is their home.

“It’s so moving to the drivers to deliver a meal and say, ‘I’m from Meals of Joy. Here’s your meal.’ It puts a smile on their face and it makes you know you’re doing the right thing.”