Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Nine Nanas

It all started with a card game thirty five years ago.  Nine Tennessee women, sitting at a table playing Bridge, posed one question to each other:  If we had one million dollars, how would we give back to our community?  Their answer?  Poundcakes.  They started a secret baking operation that would bring happiness to hundreds of people, a secret that would not be revealed for 30 years.

Decades ago, four of the Nanas lost their parents and were taken in by their grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw.  A fifth, Pearl, joined them when her parents were down and out.  A kind woman, Mamaw would read death notices in the paper, bake one of her famous lemon pound cakes, and deliver it to the grieving family.  The Bridge ladies took a cue from Mamaw and decided to start a charity bakery in one of their homes.

But how would they get the money to finance their venture?  The women, who were in the habit of sending to a laundry service, decided to do their own laundry and pocket the savings -- $400 a month.  The money went a long way to purchasing flour, sugar and eggs for their poundcakes.  Next, the Bridge ladies became expert coupon clippers, saving a dime here and a quarter there to fill their stock their shelves.  They also developped the habit of using green stamps.

Where did they find their clientele?  The Nine Nanas started eavesdropping in the local beauty parlour and supermarket.  They found out who had passed away, who was a single mom, and they would send a package with a poundcake and a note "Somebody cares fro you".  The ladies also packed into a car and completed "drive-bys", stopping at houses with fans in the windows (no air conditioning) or homes in complete darkness at night (no hydro).

Just as some Tennessee homes were in the dark, so too were the Tennessee husbands of the Nine Nanas, unaware their wives were baking up a storm in the wee hours of the morning.  That is, until Mary Ellen's husband discovered the mileage on their vehicle rising at a rapid rate and their bank account dwindling just as quickly.  After 30 years, Mary Ellen was forced to come clean to the fact that she and her "sisters" were doing much more than just playing Bridge.

Once the secret was out, the Nine Nana's baking charity became a booming business.  The husbands, most of whom were retired, joined their wives in the drive-by's.  Their children got in on the act, recommending that their mothers sell the poundcakes online to make more money for their charity.  In no time, the ladies were selling 100 cakes per day.  Outgrowing the small kitchen, one of their sons offered the use of his professional restaurant for their venture.  The ladies were in and out of the kitchen before the regular staff arrived each day.  They even hired a "happiness co-ordinator" to eavesdrop in local establishments for their cause.  

With their profits, they donated 5000 pillows and linens to a local domestic abuse shelter.  On occasion, the ladies would open the phone book, pick a random name, and send a poundcake to that person.  They would frequent grocery stores, pick a patron's cart, and start filling it with items.  To celebrate "Happiness Happens Month" in August, they also chose one person from each state who had made a significant contribution to helping others, and sent them a poundcake.

When all the flour dust had cleared, the bottles of lemon flavouring were stored on the shelf, and the last cake pan washed, the Nine Nanas had made $900,000 worth of happiness, just $100,000 shy of their original dream. The Tennessee women, almost half of whom were orphans, had made lemon pound cake out of lemons. And, with every poundcake, the happiness continues to rise.

Note:  To purchase a pound cake, visit


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