For many victims of domestic violence, escaping an abusive situation is a terrifying prospect. Even if individuals can overcome the emotional and psychological obstacles, there are the logistical considerations like managing to pack up and get out when time and resources are often limited.
Aaron Steed learned about these pressures in 1997 when he and his brother Evan, both high school athletes, started a moving company called Meathead Movers as a flexible way to earn income outside of school and sports.
“To our surprise, after a little bit of advertising, we’d get phone calls from women looking to flee their relationships because they were being abused,” Steed tells PEOPLE. “On the phone we could kind of hear the panic and how scared they were and so we would just help them out for free because it felt like the right thing to do.”
As the brothers’ business grew into a company, they continued to offer this service to individuals in need – until a violent 2001 incident caused them to reexamine their system.
“About three or four years into it, we were in the middle of one of these moves when the actual abuser came home,” Steed says. “It got confrontational – it was scary, a toaster oven was thrown and that’s when my brother and I realized that we wanted to keep offering these moving services but we had to do it in a safe way.”
So the brothers partnered with the Women’s Shelter Program in San Luis Obispo, California, to make sure the individuals they help could relocate in safety and receive the support they need beyond moving day.
Since the launch of this partnership, Meathead Movers has built relationships with six more domestic violence shelters to offer free moving services to victims around central and southern California. The partnering shelters will screen victims who request a move, protect victims’ private information and collaborate with law enforcement when additional safety measures are needed.
“The moving services that Meathead Movers is providing these women and children – both fleeing from an abusive situation and helping them move out on their own for the first time since being abused – is extremely valuable,” Genelle Taylor Kumpe, Executive Director of partner organization Marjaree Mason Center, tells PEOPLE. “They’re able to help MMC empower these families to live independently and free of domestic violence.”
The San Luis Obispo partnership alone has facilitated safe relocation for hundreds of families. “The reaction of the families is tremendous,” says Beth Raub, Director of Volunteer and Outreach Services for the Women’s Shelter Program in San Luis Obispo. “Just the relief of just having the stuff out and getting it in the new place is something off their minds that is huge.”
In addition to helping abused women and families, Steed believes this aspect of the business benefits the company’s student athlete employees.
“I’ve come to appreciate more and more the example that this sets for the young men and women, but mostly young men, who work for us,” Steed says. “I think it’s so important for them to know that real men don’t hurt and abuse women, real men help people.”
Adds Raub: “I think fostering these young creative minds and creating that awareness is going to carry forward. These young people are going to see things differently.”
Since the company has gained international attention for its work, Steed became inspired to start a movement. He’s asked businesses around the world to follow his lead by taking the #MoveToEndDV pledge.
“Our goal is to get 100 businesses to pledge to donate their products and services towards their local domestic violence shelter,” Steed explains. “Then, what we want to do is bring attention to them, celebrate them, bring additional awareness and hopefully inspire more and more people.”