It was as a simple, do-at-home idea: bake pound cakes for women in prison and deliver them at Easter. The cakes would be a symbol of love at a time of rebirth. That was four years ago, and what began as the modest effort of a few has grown to encompass a community.
Pound of Love, as the ministry is called, was the idea of Presvytera Despina Nicoloudakis of Reading, PA. She and her husband, Fr. Demetrius, have long been active in prison ministry through OCPM. For several years Presvytera met with women one-on-one in a local prison (where OCPM Executive Director Patrick Tutella served as lead chaplain). The visits came to an end, though, when Presvytera gave birth to her fifth child. And yet she missed the women.
“I was ministering to them, but they didn’t realize how much they ministered to me,” she says. So she asked herself, “What can I do to show them how much I care for them?”
She came up with pound cakes. After all, who doesn’t love pound cake?
From the beginning she knew she would need help. The Nicoloudakis’ parish, St Matthew Greek Orthodox Church, was supportive, but it’s a small parish of only 20 households, and the church has no ovens. So she placed a small free ad in the local newspaper. And she mentioned the idea to her neighbor, a parishioner at a Catholic church. Presvytera was delighted with the outcome: 68 cakes collected and distributed that first year.
That was in 2009. Each year since the ministry has grown and more groups have gotten involved.
This year, community participation reached a new high. This past Sunday, Western calendar Easter, more than 1,500 cakes—1,524 to be exact—were distributed. For the first time, there were enough cakes for every woman and man in the prison. Presvytera had to make two trips with the family minivan to transport them all. When she arrived at the prison, the officer announced, “The cake lady is here!”
There were enough cakes for a local food bank too, and family and teen crisis centers.
Two Orthodox parishes, a host of Christian denominations—including Methodist, Catholic, Episcopal, and Quaker—plus the Islamic Center, Jewish Community Center, and local businesses all baked pound cakes. The Orthodox Christian Fellowship chapter at Temple University, where the Nicoloudakis’ daughter is a student, baked seven loaves.
Presvytera knows that for people who’ve been in prison, re-entering society is difficult. She hopes that the women and men in prison who receive the pound cakes will be heartened, knowing that there are people in the community who care. That when they are released, it will give them courage. “I can feel my own sense of redemption and hope and God’s love, and I pray they feel it,” she says.
She hopes too that the baking of the cakes will have a ripple effect. As it brings community members together in an act of love, she hopes there will ultimately be less crime, less homelessness, and fewer people in prison in Reading.
Commenting on the ecumenical spirit of the ministry, Presvytera Despina has been moved “to see how Christ has brought us all together.”