Secret Group Known As ‘The 9 Nanas’ Spent Three Decades Anonymously Helping Those In Need

by : Emily Brown on : 26 Feb 2021 16:53
Secret Group Known As 'The 9 Nanas' Spent Three Decades Anonymously Helping Those In NeedThe 9 Nanas/Facebook

Nine women dedicated three decades of their lives to helping those in need, but their operation was kept so quiet that not even their husbands knew what was going on. 

Known as ‘The 9 Nanas’, the group would spend their nights secretly baking and delivering hundreds of pound cakes to low-income neighbourhoods in west Tennessee.


Once their mission for the night was complete, the nine women, all aged between 54 and 72, would return back to their daily lives, with their loved ones none the wiser about the good deeds they’d been involved with.

Pound cakesThe 9 Nanas/Facebook

One of the women involved, named Mary Ellen, explained that The 9 Nanas came about in the 70s, when the women were gathered together one day playing cards.

Speaking about the project in 2012, Ellen told The Huffington Post that four of the women were reminiscing about their grandparents, MaMaw and PaPaw, who raised Mary Ellen and three of the others, when they came up with the idea.


Per the MailOnline, she explained:

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?

Pound cake and card given by the 9 nanasThe 9 Nanas/Facebook

One of the women suggested they all start doing their own laundry and save the money for those in need. Ellen admitted that while there was ‘just something about laundering [she didn’t] like’, she was outnumbered by the other women.


They began putting aside around $400 per month before listening in at the local beauty shop or food store for stories of people who needed help. If there was, for example, a widow or a single mother in need, they would anonymously pay a utility bill or buy new clothes for the children.

Together, the women would find out where the person in need lived and send a package with a note that read: ‘Somebody loves you.’ The package would always contain one of MaMaw Ruth’s special pound cakes.

Eggs bakingPixabay

Ellen recalled:


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 9 Nanas went undetected for more than 30 years until one day Ellen’s husband called her out for the extra mileage on the car, and the large amounts of cash that had been withdrawn from their savings account.

The women came clean, after which their husbands decided to join in their efforts, accompanying the Nanas on the drive-bys or writing down addresses.

Cakes given by the 9 nanasThe 9 Nanas/Facebook

The kind-hearted ladies moved the operation into the commercial kitchen of a restaurant owned by one of their sons, though they kept things quiet by sneaking in before sunrise and sneaking out before the staff arrived.

They later set up a website, Happiness Happens, where they sold their cakes and contributed to bigger efforts such as donating thousands of dollars worth of pillows, linens and personal care products to the YWCA shelter for survivors of domestic violence.

Ellen commented:

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.

Even after setting up the website, the women stayed true to their roots and would occasionally pull out the phone book to send pound cakes to complete strangers.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Life, tennessee


  1. MailOnline

    'Not even our husbands knew!' The women who have been secretly delivering cakes to underprivileged families for over 30 YEARS