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Life with Gracie: A wife's vow to her dying husband

In a Dunwoody shopping strip, a widow recalls the bedside conversations that changed the trajectory of her life.

Sally Mundell was 35 at the time, a mother to two daughters, wife of Grover and head of Spanx’s catalog and worldwide e-commerce business. Life was better than good.

Then in the winter of 2012, Grover was suddenly stricken with a bug. Doctors thought he had the flu, then pneumonia. But after weeks of Grover languishing in a hospital bed getting weaker, a biopsy showed he had neither of those.

Grover, just 48, had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or IPF, a type of lung disease that scars the lungs for some unknown reason. Over time, the scarring gets worse and it becomes hard to take in a deep breath and the lungs cannot take in enough oxygen.

Doctors put him on the lung transplant list, hoping he’d soon get strong enough to endure the surgery, but it wouldn’t be. On March 8, 2013, Grover Mundell passed away.

By then, the long talks he and Sally had about what his life, given a second chance, would look like had planted the seed to do what Grover felt he had not done enough of: make his life count.

On his death bed, he extracted a promise from Sally: Start a foundation to help others.

She didn’t know it at the time, but it would be enough to move her and their young girls, Ruby and Matilda, from grief to giving.

Grover’s focus had been helping the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, and so Spanx founder Sara Blakely made a generous donation to the nonprofit in his honor. But Sally wanted to expand her efforts far beyond that.

She just needed to figure out how.

She looked for volunteer opportunities for her and her daughters, but those were too sporadic, and worse not very kid-friendly.

“I started noticing moms incorporating charity donations in their children’s birthday parties,” she said. “Jumpy houses are entertaining, but it occurred to me that there should be a place where parents could host a party for kids to have fun and help others at the same time.”

By mid-November last year, Sally had decided she’d just work part time at Spanx and focus on her new mission, empowering kids to do good and sparking conversations about needs in the metro Atlanta community and how all of us can help.

In January, she reached out to Operation Sandbox Georgia to begin testing her idea. She partnered with the Davis Academy, and together they assembled 500 care packages for U.S. soldiers.

“The response was overwhelming,” she said. “People would ask me can we do this again.”

She remembered this place where she’d taken Ruby and Matilda for art classes. She followed a hunch and checked to see if it might be available.

“It was vacant,” Sally said. “Everything was just lining up for me.”

By everything, she means everything and everyone, including some of her former Spanx colleagues like Maggie Klein, women who were PR savvy, who knew the importance of branding and having a good business strategy, who appreciated the value of teaching children to give.

“Sally is intelligent, driven and an inspiring example of finding the hidden blessing in a tragic situation,” Klein said. “When she first told me about her idea, I knew she would make it happen, and I jumped at the chance to help.”

If necessity is the mother of invention, it was also Sally’s motivation to invent a new charitable concept — a place where connection, convenience and consciousness are packaged together to create an engaging, healing experience for families, while helping those who need it most.

Sally called her invention The Packaged Good, a nonprofit that provides a fun, inspirational environment where kids and community groups can decorate and personalize care packages for people in need.

Simply put, she partners with other vetted, reputable nonprofits to allow volunteers the ability to support causes closest to their hearts while handling all of the logistics. Items are purchased in bulk or donated by local businesses and organizations.

The Packaged Good opened its Dunwoody facility on June 1 and has since created 1,000 care packages for the needy, facilitated 50 kids in giving to others, and hosted five events, including birthday parties, mom’s nights out and corporate volunteer days.

On Saturday, one day after what would’ve been Grover’s 52nd birthday, Sally, Ruby and Matilda, now 8 and 6, respectively, will celebrate the grand opening of The Packaged Good.

They hope you’ll come, bring your children and help them put together 500 hygiene care packages that will be donated to Rainbow Village, New American Pathways and Mary Hall Freedom House, nonprofits serving Atlanta’s homeless.

It’s their way of honoring Grover and celebrating his birthday because “he inspired this whole thing.”

“At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have,” Sally Mundell said. “It’s about what you give.”

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