They call themselves “The 9 Nanas,” and have been secretly whipping up, and delivering hundreds of pound cakes during the middle of the night in a grand scheme to help those in need. And then before anyone can catch a glimpse of them, they quietly and quickly disappear back into their daily lives in West Tennessee.
Mary Ellen, one of the nine women, who are all aged between 54 and 72, told The Huffington Post: ‘We give new meaning to the term drive-by. “We drive through low-income neighborhoods and look for homes with fans in the window. That told us that the people who live there don’t have air-conditioning. Or we see that there are no lights on at night, which means there is a good chance their utilities have been turned off. Then we return before the sun came up, like cat burglars, and drop off a little care package.”
The women, who consider themselves sisters, gather in the darkness at 4am to begin their daily routine, where they whip up their cakes and deliver them in the dark. Mary Ellen explained how they got started, 35 years ago. One day over a card game, the women were reminiscing about the grandparents, named MaMaw and PaPaw, who raised Mary Ellen and three of the other sisters.
“MaMaw Ruth would read in the paper that someone had died and she’d send off one of her special pound cakes. She didn’t have to know the family. She just wanted to put a little smile on their faces. And we started thinking about what we could do to make a difference like that. What if we had a million dollars? How would we spend it?” she said.
The ladies began brainstorming, and one of the sisters suggested they all start doing their own laundry, putting put the money saved to good use. She said, “I admit, I protested at first. There’s just something about laundering that I don’t like. But I was outnumbered! So among the nine of us, we’d put aside about $400 a month and our husbands never noticed a thing. Their shirts looked just fine.”
The women started eavesdropping at the local beauty shop or when they were picking up groceries, and when they heard about a widow or a single mother who needed some help, they would anonymously pay a utility bill or buy new clothes for the children. The Nanas would find out where the person lived and send a package with a note that simply read, ‘Somebody loves you,’ which would always include one of MaMaw Ruth’s special pound cakes.
For three decades, the ladies’ good deeds went undetected.
It was only when Mary Ellen’s husband started noticing extra mileage on the car and large amounts of cash that had been withdrawn from their savings account that the women were caught out.
She said in horror: ‘He brought out bank statements and they were highlighted!’
So The 9 Nanas they told the husbands about the laundry, eavesdropping and even the drive-bys. And to their surprise, their husbands offered to help.
Mary Ellen said, “They were amazed that we were doing this and even more amazed that they never knew. We can keep a good secret! All but three of them are retired now, so sometimes they come with us on our drive-bys. In our area, all you need is an address to pay someone’s utility bill, so we keep the men busy jotting down numbers.”
The women then moved their secret operation out of their homes and into the commercial kitchen of a restaurant owned by one of their sons. They sneak in before sunrise and sneak out before the staff come in, and have also hired a ‘happiness coordinator,’ who, to keep her identity secret for eavesdropping missions, goes by the code name of ‘Sunny’. Now selling over 100 of MaMaw Ruth’s pound cakes daily online at Happiness Happens, The 9 Nanas can take on bigger projects.
Recently they donated more than $5,000 worth of pillows, linens and personal care products to the YWCA shelter for survivors of domestic violence. This August, they will celebrate their second ‘Happiness Happens Month’ by sending a cake to one person in every state who has made a difference in their own community. Sometimes, they also pull out the phone book to send pound cakes to complete strangers.
In the last 35 years, The 9 Nanas have contributed nearly $900,000 of happiness to their local community. Mary Ellen said, “Not everyone is as lucky as we were to have MaMaw and PaPaw to take care of them, to fix all those things that are wrong. So this is our way of giving back. We want people to know that someone out there cares enough to do something. We want to make sure that happiness happens.”