Meathead Movers offers services for free to victims of domestic abuse

Aaron Steed remembers helping a woman move items out of her home years ago so she could flee an abusive relationship.

Steed and his moving company had moved many women in similar situations, but this time things turned scary.

He remembers the woman's abusive boyfriend coming home, flinging a toaster toward the wall and accusing Steed of taking his items, leading Steed to call 911.

Looking back, the company owner says it was all worth it. His Meathead Movers helps victims of domestic violence get away from their abusers by moving their belongings for free.

"To our unfortunate surprise, during the first two or three years running the company, I'd be the one who would pick up the calls," said Steed, 35, of Avila Beach, in San Luis Obispo County. "I'd periodically get calls from someone — usually a woman — fleeing an abusive relationship. There were a lot of intense moments and crying.

"I remember the conversations pretty vividly and feeling a tremendous amount of panic and sadness. Handling those phone calls made it very real very quick. As the jobs went on, we realized we were potentially saving lives."

He felt bad taking money in these situations, so shortly after the company was created 18 years ago, that became company policy — free moving services to people fleeing violent situations.

The company, which Steed and his brother started in San Luis Obispo while both were still in high school, now has four offices in California, including a Santa Ana location that opened in January 2014.

Brandon Miller, 22, an employee at Meathead Movers' Santa Ana branch, said it feels good to be able to help people during their time of need — whether they are abuse victims or not.

"There was one move I remember doing where my client was physically disabled," he said. "He couldn't help with anything at all. We were able to make the job go really smoothly."

Miller noted that the job came about on short notice.

"The fact that we were able to come in so quickly made me feel good about myself, and the client was super grateful," he said.

Steed said the company, which employs mainly student athletes, has garnered a reputation for sensitivity and kindness.

"It wasn't so much about how we moved furniture," he said. "It was about how we made our clients feel. We really care about the customers' experience. Because we hire clean-cut, drug-free student athletes, our customers can just tell the caliber of individual that we employ."

Sensitivity is certainly called for when dealing with delicate situations, but so is a certain amount of training. Steed said Meathead Movers relies on relationships with local domestic violence shelters, and the shelters have outlined memorandums of understanding, which include all movers being trained by the shelters in how to handle the sort of situations they encounter.

"Whenever we get a panicked phone call, we tell them to call the local domestic violence shelter and tell them of their process, which includes contracting with us for the free moving services," he said.

Meathead Movers also encourages other businesses to work with their local shelters by providing a free product or service that will aid victims of domestic violence through the hashtag #MovetoEndDV.

Kathleen Buczko, executive director of Good Shepherd Shelter, a refuge for homeless women and children in Los Angeles, said Meathead Movers' help has been "invaluable."

"From an emergency perspective, having the opportunity to move your stuff out and put it in a protected place affords the opportunity for individuals to get into a safe situation quicker," said Buczko, adding that Good Shepherd Shelter has had a relationship with Meathead Movers for about a year.

"They're wonderful, sensitive, caring and enthusiastic. They help turn something that had been associated with something that was so incredibly traumatic into a celebration of moving to their new homes and to a new life."

AJ Clarey, operations manager at the Santa Ana branch, said he remembers when he helped move a victim out of her home in the same San Luis Obispo County town he grew up in.

"That hit home for me," he said. "The shelter she was working with contacted us and we discreetly set up the move. When we showed up, she had everything packed. We moved her items from one side of the county across to the other. When we finished, she was literally in tears. Without our help she wouldn't have been able to pay to get her stuff moved. We got her into a safe place with her children."

Steed said he hopes the experiences help to shape his young employees.

"As I get older, I can't help but really value and appreciate more and more the tone this sets for my employees who are involved in actually moving these victims," Steed said. "I can't help but think and hope that it changes their perception of themselves and their ability to have a major impact to do something that can really help someone in need.

"We've moved everywhere from the poorest of neighborhoods to the richest people. It doesn't matter. This [abuse] is everywhere."

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