Who knew that packing and carrying a few boxes and furniture could help change a life — or save one?
One moving company is finding itself in the national spotlight this week for its efforts to help California domestic violence victims move out of their abusive homes and settle into new, safe environments — for free. Now Meathead Movers is using its newfound spotlight to challenge other moving companies to follow its example.
“We have decided to start a campaign to challenge other businesses to do what they can to step up to help people in domestic violence situations,” Meathead corporate controller Erin Steed tells Yahoo Makers.
The challenge comes in the form of a new hashtag, #MoveToEndDV and a section on Meathead’s website where businesses — moving companies and otherwise — across the country can pledge to work with a local shelter in their communities to donate or provide a free product or service to aid victims of domestic violence.
“We’re really just hoping to take the positive momentum that is out there right now,” says Steed, “and tell businesses, ‘You can do this. You can help.’ And it is so needed.”
Steed chatted with Yahoo Makers as her husband, Meathead co-founder and CEO Aaron Steed, was about to do a nationally televised interview with HLN. It’s the latest in the wave of attention that’s greeted Meathead since it announced its new partnership with Good Shepherd, Los Angeles’s oldest domestic violence shelter, to help victims move out of their abusive homes for free. It’s the biggest such partnership announced so far by Meathead, which calls itself California’s largest independent moving company. The high-profile alliance with Good Shepherd means Meathead is now allied with seven domestic violence shelters in central and Southern California.
“The attention has really been overwhelming for us,” says Steed. “We have been inundated with phone calls, emails, and hundreds of Facebook messages from people all over the United States and all the way to the U.K. and to Australia, saying, ‘I wish I had this in my area. Do you know of anyone?’ Instead of saying, ‘No, I’m sorry, we don’t do that there,’ and, ‘There’s no one doing that there,’ we want to be able to say, ‘Yes.’”
With its new initiative, Meathead plans to use its experience in this area to teach other moving companies how they can partner with their local domestic violence shelters to help victims in a time that is extraordinarily stressful and extremely dangerous.
A side business begins
Despite the newfound coverage, Meathead has been helping domestic violence victims for years. Aaron Steed founded the company in 1997 with his brother, Evan, when they both needed a job in high school. As their business and reputation for kindness grew, they started getting calls from some particularly desperate potential clients.
“It would be victims of domestic violence,” says Erin. “Basically, their abuser was out of the home for a few hours, and [the victims] would call and say, ‘Please, I don’t have money. I’ll do anything: Pick a couch, pick my TV. But I need to get out, and I have my kids, and I don’t have the capacity to move.’”
Of course, Aaron and Evan didn’t take the couches or TVs, but they and their movers did help. “The movers would rush out and try and help these victims do the best they can to get the essentials — the clothes, the cribs — all the things they need to flee and have some semblance of a life, and just get them out of there.”
The side business continued like that for a couple of years, until one scary incident. “One day an abuser came home while the movers where there,” says Steed. “And the situation quickly escalated.”
Fortunately, there was no violence in that incident, but it forced the company to take a realistic look at the danger. “When a victim chooses to leave, that’s when their life is most at risk,” Steed says. (Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship, according to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.) The Steed brothers decided they could no longer put themselves, the victims, or their employees at risk by operating on their own. So they reached out for help; the company started partnering with domestic violence shelters in 2001.
Moving a victim out of danger
Now when a domestic violence victim calls Meathead Movers for help, Meathead passes her on to a domestic violence shelter. (Or, more accurately, her or him. “The fact that men are abused so frequently is the dirty little secret of domestic violence,” says Steed, noting that Meathead also helps men in that situation. “We’ll move anyone who needs help.”)
From there, the shelter, not the victim, makes the arrangements for the move. “That way [the victim’s] private information is not out there,” says Steed. “The abuser can’t call in and weasel their way into finding out [about the move].”
The shelters arrange support for the victims, such as childcare supplies, professional therapy, job training, and, of course, housing. More importantly, they also arrange for protection during these potentially volatile moves.
“The shelter does a risk assessment for us,” says Steed, noting that often the abuser is locked up during the move and isn’t a factor. But in the cases where the abuser is at large, the shelter takes no chances.
“The shelter will decide, ‘Do we want law enforcement on site?’” says Steed. “And quite often the shelter will coordinate with local law enforcement, and they’ll be on site just to make sure no one’s in danger and the situation isn’t going to escalate.”
Moving day can stressful enough for any of us. So imagine how urgent things can be when the person moving is a victim of domestic violence and the abuser is only going to be gone for a couple of hours — maybe more, maybe less.
In these cases, Meathead is all business. “Our crew shows up with a complete game plan,” Steed says, thanks to the arrangements made by the shelters. You know how in normal moves, movers will take an extra day or two to come over and carefully pack and wrap every single item in your home? That is a luxury these kinds of moves just can’t afford.
“At this point, the shelter will have helped the victim prioritize what they really need to get out in this situation,” says Steed. “At the end of the day, it’s not the things that matter. It’s their lives.”
So with time of the essence, Meathead makes sure there are more than enough guys to do the job in the time allotted. “We know if we literally have two hours, we’ll send six guys instead of two,” Steed says.
It also helps that most of Meathead’s movers are young, in-shape student-athletes. “They run when they’re not carrying anything, so we’re already quicker than your average moving company,” Steed says. “And they’re strong. We have guys that can one-man a refrigerator. So they get in, they get the work done and they get out.”
From there, the movers will take the victims’ belongings to storage, a safe house, or sometimes a friend’s or relative’s home. But Meathead’s role no longer stops there. Now with its partnership with Good Shepherd, Steed says, Meathead is expanding its role in the process.
“Before, we focused on getting the victims out of danger,” she says. But Meathead learned the victims also need help when they are ready to move out of their shelters and back into the world.
“They’ll have a lot of donated furniture, but they don’t really have a means to get to their new home,” says Steed. So now Meathead helps out there too. “We expanded our services to both ends; not only helping the victims who are fleeing, but also, once they’re back on their feet, getting them set up and settled into a new apartment or home.”
The costs and rewards of giving back
As other movers look at getting into this kind of work themselves, they need to know it can come at a cost. Sometimes these moves interfere with moves for paying customers. Meathead says that’s just part of the deal.
“These moves are our priority,” says Steed of Meathead’s victims’ assistance work. “Because we look at it as potentially saving a life. If someone needs to get out of a dangerous situation, we’ll be there. Moving is important and stressful to everybody, but we have to prioritize the ones that are life-changing.”
But along with the cost, there are the rewards — both for the victims who are getting a chance to start new lives free from abuse and for the movers themselves.
Steed says that “tears, hugs, gratefulness, and disbelief that people are willing to do this” are some of the emotions that greet Meathead’s young movers on these jobs. “For a lot of our young men movers, this is their first job and their first exposure to giving back,” she says. “It makes our people feel really good.”
And it’s not just victims expressing gratitude. “A couple of weeks [after a job], we’ll get these crayon pictures of our movers dressed in superhero capes from the little kids to say thank you,” Steed says proudly. “You can imagine how that makes everyone feel.”
It’s a feeling Steed says will become familiar to other movers and businesses who take up Meathead’s #MoveToEndDV challenge and learn that the backbreaking work of moving also can be lifesaving work.
“One of the best things is not just that we’re helping out people in need,” she says, “but also that our employees get to feel what it is to do good.”
Also on Yahoo Makers: