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The 9 Nanas mail-order bakery, which specializes in pound cakes, is run by a group of women ranging in age from their late 50s to early 70s. They're bakers on a mission: Since 1977 they've raised nearly $1.2 million dollars for people who need it, according to the group's oldest member, who calls herself Nana Pearl.
The women live in western Tennessee, and help struggling individuals, often by paying utility bills or sending gift cards, as well as organizations like domestic violence shelters and food banks.
The Nanas are a secretive bunch, and prefer to keep their identities hidden, which "was something we agreed upon in the very beginning," Nana Pearl wrote in an e-mail message to TODAY.
Back then, before they'd started selling their baked goods online, the Nanas would wake each morning at 4am and, unbeknownst to their families, bake several pound cakes to send to families who seemed to need some extra sweetness in their lives.
Four of the women are sisters, and their mother, who they called MaMaw Ruth, used to do similar acts of kindness, one of the sisters, Nana Mary Ellen, told the Huffington Post. "[She] 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," she said.
As the story goes, their families eventually figured out their secret and offered to help them launch their online business, with the goal of raising more money to help those around them.
"From the very beginning, it’s been about helping women who’d been thrust into one of life’s storms. Widows and divorcees with children seem to tug at our hearts. So, groups working to help them get on their feet certainly get our attention," said Nana Pearl. (The group's YouTube channel has a video about a donation of linens, robes and toiletries for a domestic violence shelter in Memphis.)
On the web site, small and regular-size pound cakes are available in flavors like vanilla, lime, chocolate and sweet harvest (which includes cranberries and egg nog). An annual membership to the group's Cake Club costs about $335 and includes limited edition flavors.
Although Nana Pearl wouldn't part with her family's original pound cake recipe, she did share another favorite holiday parfait that she calls "simple, versatile and easy on the wallet."