California moving company Meathead Movers strictly employs student athletes: muscular young men with winning smiles. The company also has another unusual policy — it helps victims of domestic violence move house, free of charge.

Brothers Aaron and Evan Steed started doing casual moving work in 1997, when they were 17 and 15 years old, respectively, and still in high school. Both student athletes (Aaron’s sport of choice was wrestling; Evan’s American football), they found that the work suited them. Three years after that, they decided to quit school and focus on the business. But there was one aspect of the job that they didn’t expect.
Two employees of Meathead Movers, proudly displaying their Tetris skills.
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“Financial control is a big part of domestic violence”


Once we started advertising our services, we would periodically get calls from women fleeing abusive relationships. In the first couple of months of advertising the business we got our first call, and then a few months later we got another call. I was always the first person to answer the phone, and I would hear these stories: “My boyfriend is coming home; I need to get out, I need to get out now. Will you help?” They used to call when the abuser was out of the house: at work, or away on vacation. And we kept saying yes and we didn't charge.

An employee of Meathead Movers shows off his uniform.

It was a surprise to us how much domestic violence there was in the community. We would just do it for free — it just seemed like the right thing to do.

The women would often say that they didn’t have much money, but they would offer us their TV, or a couch. We always refused, of course. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that financial control is a big part of domestic violence.


“I remember going nose-to-nose with an abuser”
 
It was sobering to hear these stories. It was a little nerve-wracking and a tad scary. In my late teens and early twenties it was my first experience of doing anything philanthropic and it brought a heck of a lot more value to running a moving service.

Once the abuser came home in the middle of our doing a move. I was probably about 18 years old. He started screaming at his partner; I tried to ask him to calm down, and he threw a toaster on the floor, threatening us and shouting. I remember he and I going nose to nose, and that’s when I told the guy I was working with to call the police.

Before that I hadn’t even thought about the dangerous aspect to the job – I was a wrestler. But almost immediately after that we decided to go to a local domestic violence shelter to ask if they would be willing to partner with us.

That partnership formed in 2001 and we now offer free unlimited moving services for victims fleeing abusive relationships in eight different shelters across the state.
An employee of Meathead Movers helping a client to move house.

Now, Steed explains, if a victim of domestic abuse calls the company they are referred to the shelter, which provides support in myriad ways such as legal advice, food, and housing. The shelter representative will then arrange a moving date with Meathead Movers and the victim, and decides whether it is necessary to request police involvement or not.
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Meathead Movers employees load a van.

“If for whatever reason someone shows up, we will call the police immediately”

Steed was careful to emphasise that they offer the service to both men and women — to anyone who is a victim of domestic abuse. It’s an unusual altruistic addition to a simple moving business, but Steed says that the extra service has actually attracted new recruits.

We provide sensitivity training and confidentiality training for our employees. We tell our employees to stay focused. You’re not a domestic violence professional. Your job starts and ends with moving furniture — let’s not try to pretend to be anything else but that. But if you’re doing the move and the victim is on site, be empathetic, realise what you’re there for. If for whatever reason someone shows up, we will call the police immediately. We don’t want confrontation.

Over the years, even in moments of economic uncertainty when the company was forced to downsize, Meathead Movers never stopped offering the services.

I can’t think of a more powerful and impactful thing that a moving company can do. It’s a lot easier to offer services than to write a cheque – it is a better way to donate.

CEO Aaron Steed hosting first Ambassador Training Webinar in partnership with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

For that reason, the company has also begun a community campaign called MoveToEndDV, which encourages local businesses to offer their products or services to victims of domestic violence and to partner with refuges in much the same way that Meathead Movers has done. Beginning with those phone calls all those years ago, the Steeds have managed to create a movement against domestic violence in their own community.

Article written with
Catherine Bennett

Catherine Bennett , Anglophone Journalist