The 9 Nanas

They sneak out into the wee hours of the morning. They bring along their ritual gear—flour, eggs, and pans—and get to work.

They are the 9 Nanas.

And they have lived in the shadows of secrecy for quite some time …

Until now.

And their story became an Internet sensation.

What do these nine women have up their sleeves (other than the occasional forgotten spatula)?

An unending desire to assist those in need.


In secret.

The 9 Nanas have been slipping around the corners of your supermarket, sleuthing at coffee shops, and sneaking around your beauty shop …  looking for folks who’ve been down on their luck.

It all started with MaMaw Ruth. MaMaw and PaPaw are the grandparents who raised four of the women when their mother passed away. They also took in Pearl when her parents fell on hard times.

MaMaw read the obituaries and liked to send off one of her special pound cakes to a grieving family—who, oftentimes, she didn’t know.

Inspired by MaMaw’s random kindness, the ladies wanted to give back the way she had given to them. So, during their weekly card game of “Broads and Bridge,” they came up with a plan.

“One of the sisters suggested that we should all start doing our own laundry and put the money we saved to good use. 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.”


Like secret agents of kindness, they gave new meaning to the phrase “drive-by.” They’d cruise through low-income neighborhoods and look for houses with the lights off, which indicated the power bill hadn’t been paid.

So, only needing an address in their area, they’d go ahead and pay the bill. The next morning, they’d sneak one of MaMaw Ruth’s special pound cakes to the door with a little note.

After three decades of listening in and helping those in need, well, something had to give …

Mary Ellen’s husband began to notice things like strange large withdrawals from their account, and unexplained miles on the car.

Fearing the worst, Mary Ellen called the ladies over to spill the beans. They gathered the men together and shared it all … the laundry, the cakes, and even the secret drive-bys.

With the secret out, they soon told their children and were encouraged to start selling the pound cakes online, using the commercial kitchen in the restaurant of one of their sons.

They’re still up at the crack of dawn baking love into each cake—and are out before the staff arrives.

They were able to hire a happiness coordinator (whose identity is secret, the better to eavesdrop with) and began taking orders online for MaMaw Ruth’s pound cakes—all proceeds going to their non-profit Happiness Happens.

The original organic, from scratch, vanilla-bean cake recipe (an heirloom that was passed down from Grandmother Mary to MaMaw Ruth and then from MaMaw Ruth to the girls) is still used today.

They were recently able to donate linens, pillows, and personal-care products—$5,000 worth—to a shelter that assists survivors of domestic violence.

As they expand, they don’t forget why they started. They still keep a trusty phone book on hand to send cakes to complete strangers, and they keep their ears open for those in need.

“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.

“This is our way of giving back,” Mary Ellen said. “We want people to know that someone out there cares enough to do something. We want to make sure that happiness happens.”

Leave a comment 7 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    What a perfect story to start my day! It is so easy to forget that sometimes the smallest gesture is all it takes to bring some happiness to someone’s day. Thanks for sharing about these inspirational women!!

  2. Julie Kram says:


  3. Terry Steinmetz says:

    The tears of joy are running down my face. It is easy to do something for someone without them knowing. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Laurie Dimno says:

    What a wonderful heartwarming story. Indeed a story of love and kindness, inspiring anyone and everyone who reads it. Thank you once again for sharing the positives of today’s world with us!

  5. Susie says:

    I needed that story!

  6. Karen Helbig says:

    Wow!! These are some wonderful ladies!! Great job ladies!

  7. It almost brings tears to my eyes to take in all this kindness. Mother Earth needs more people like this. What inspiration.

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