Gina Grundmeier's Pay It Forward
By Mary Burich
Life once gave Gina Grundmeier a proverbial lemon, but the Dexter, Minn., resident barely missed a beat before turning it into something sweet. Her charitable home-remodeling organization, Pay it Forward, rose from the ashes, so to speak, of a house fire that left Gina and her family homeless and without belongings.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the self-described “sentimental girl.” “We lost so many things that are irreplaceable,” she says.
At the same time, the tragedy gave her a front-row seat to the kindness of strangers. A man who had recently remarried and moved into his wife’s home offered his place to the Grundmeiers. Gina, Todd and their four children lived there for a year, and all the while, Gina was thinking about a way of giving back.
Her story is well-known in the village of Dexter, but it came to light well beyond when the team responsible for the Hormel® Natural Choice® brand launched its #NominateGood contest. The effort was an extension of the brand’s Good Feeds Us All Tour, a movement that began in 2019 to spotlight organizations and people throughout the United States who work for the betterment of others. When Hormel Foods took a break from the tour to shelter in place during the outbreak of COVID-19, it turned the table and asked people to step forward with examples of those who are doing good in their communities.
Gina’s name was submitted to the #NominateGood contest by Todd, who sometimes rolls his eyes in jest at his wife’s insistence on lending a hand or her tears over neighbors’ challenges.
It’s probably because six years after the founding of Pay it Forward, Todd must surely know that Gina will pull off whatever she sets her mind to. Her track record speaks for itself.
Pay it Forward began as an organization focused on remodeling bathrooms for those in need. It was a logical mission, given the Grundmeiers’ plumbing business. Pay it Forward has undertaken seven major projects to date, the largest of which – an $83,000 remodel of a home for a young man paralyzed in a car accident – was completed “just under the wire of the COVID-19 work stoppage.” Gina relied heavily on her friends in town and on her business contacts to remove all of the carpet, install a chairlift and make other changes that are allowing the 26-year-old to live independently.
Pay it Forward’s work isn’t limited to construction, however. For example, a call came in about a woman who was going through cancer treatment. A friend stepped forward to ask if the organization could help the young mom repair her car. The request confirmed what Gina has long believed to be true: There is a surprising number of people out there who need help.
Fortunately for them, Gina hates the “I-can’t attitude” and the word “no.” “If there’s a way, I’ll find it,” she says.
What happens next usually is Gina obsessing over the problem and working the phones to find a solution. In the case of the auto transmission, she called a local mechanic. “I said, ‘I have this much money. Can you help me out?’ Once people hear about what we’re trying to do, they come forward.” When it’s not enough, Gina has been known to dip into her family’s savings. (Cue Todd’s eye roll.)
Her desire to help goes beyond giving people respite from financial worries, as pressing as that is. It’s also about their dignity. “Everybody should know that they matter,” she says, holding back tears. “Everybody should know they’re loved.”
Though most people in and around Dexter are well-aware of Pay it Forward, the reverse isn’t important to Gina.
“I don’t have to know people to care about them,” she says.