On average, 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in the United States. Reports of domestic violence are rising due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is impacting the way we live, work, and how we feel. But, at 3 Men Movers, our hope is to reduce that number to 0.
So, we’re using our expert moving resources to support local organizations to address domestic violence. Here’s how we’re partnering with the nonprofit Fort Bend Women’s Center (FBWC) in Texas to support survivors.
Houston Partnership Eases COVID-19’s Effect on Domestic Abuse
Typically, the FBWC resale shop, PennyWise, accepts donated furniture and appliances for resale. Proceeds are used to provide programs and goods for domestic abuse survivors and their children. Until the stay-at-home order in Greater Houston is lifted, PennyWise is closed and cannot move donations to their warehouse. So, our crews are helping by moving donated furniture from clients to the FBWC warehouse.
Three Men Movers has been a wonderful friend and partner to Fort Bend Women’s Center for many years, and we’re thrilled to be working with them to bring in donations for our Pennywise stores, which support our mission to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their kids. Through this partnership, people can use the VERY BEST movers in town and also make much-needed donations to a great cause! Thank you, Three Men Movers!
To dig deeper, we sat down with Sean Hughes, Resale Operations Director for PennyWise. Here’s his take on the partnership and how the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders are affecting domestic violence.
Can you tell us a bit more about your organization and what your mission is?
“Fort Bend Women’s Center has been part of the community for 40 years, and our primary goals are to promote healing and hope and assistance for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. And, unfortunately, with a large community, we have lots of needs for assistance.”
What is your role at Fort Bend Women’s Center and why do you find it rewarding?
“I have a lot of fun doing what I do. My program involves the resale stores—the thrift stores—that are part of the fundraising portion for the agency. So I get to apply a lot of my traditional retail background in a nonprofit organization.
And, I realized, not only am I benefitting myself and my team by having a good operation, but I’m able to make a great place for volunteers to come, a great place for donors to contribute to our cause.
Ultimately, everything that we do well ends up being beneficial to our clients, the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. So, that part of the things is a little bit more meaningful knowing that all our good works go directly translated into good things for the survivors.”
Can you tell me more about PennyWise?
“We operate four different stores and two stand-alone donation centers across Harris and Fort Bend counties, and we operate with a team of paid staff members and lots and lots of volunteers.
Primarily, what we do is we gather donated items from the community either through our trucks and the team of drivers that is involved with our trucks or directly in our facilities. We prepare those items to be gifted to needy clients who qualify for certain things or to be sold to the public.
A lot of members of the public who love to shop in our thrift stores, and we love having them. It’s exciting to see what’s new every day for us, too, because we never know quite what we’re going to have for sale and it’s a lot of fun.”
How is 3 Men Movers currently working with your organization?
“Well, there’s two parts to what’s going on. We were able to provide some material for 3 Men Movers to use as training aids. Some of the appliances and furniture that we get are things that we can’t give to clients or sell to the public because of their condition or their age, but they’re the right size and texture and they’re great training tools. So, y’all got a hold of some of our stuff and are training new staff members to use those sample items.
From our end, we have had a great opportunity to do some cross-marketing through 3 Men Movers, and also to make some arrangements to have things donated from the public and stored by the 3 Men Movers team, so that we have really an additional donations pipeline. As a nonprofit who is very interested in material donations, we love any new source of items! Our clients appreciate that and the buying public appreciates that, too.”
What expected or unexpected changes have you noticed as a result of this involvement?
“Well, we’ve seen an opportunity to begin to explore some things. I’m actually kind of new to the organization and new to this particular partnership, so perhaps my perspective isn’t as informed at some other folks… But I know that we’re grateful for the opportunity to share some marketing ideas so that both sides can be benefited.
I know—just as an aside—I have been a customer of yours multiple times. I’ve had a chance to move in a couple different places in the Texas area and every time my first call has always been to 3 Men Movers. I’ve had some sensational experiences so I’m anticipating that all our connections going forward are going to be really solid.”
What are your biggest challenges with getting donations?
“Well, the biggest challenge is a good thing. Houston is such a large and diverse city, that there are a lot of very effective and great nonprofit organizations up there. Everywhere from churches to community organizations to government groups, and they all have different niches, geographically and economically, and with their mission.
So we are very competitive for donated items, as well as funds, as well as volunteer time. So our biggest general challenge is to stay relevant and to stay top of mind to those generous people in the community that want to give their money, their time or their property to us.”
What types of donations do you need the most?
“Honestly, the thing that gets our staff and our clients most excited are furniture items. We sell everything from clothes, to shoes, to household goods, to home décor, toys and games, and neat stuff. But, we have the best luck and have the best opportunity to make the most money for the agency with furniture items.
For instance, we recently opened a second community that provides shelter for some of our needy clients, and all of those members of the community needed new furniture of some kind.
And so, we had a huge run on our inventories of furniture during the early to middle part of February. We were pretty well cleaned out, and that was great because it means we were providing things to clients. But, we’d like to get the opportunity to be restocked always, in the future. People will always get excited about furniture!”
What types of donations are you currently not accepting?
“Well, the things that we don’t accept are for three basic reasons:
One is if the items are so large that it’s not physically practical for our staff to move them around. We don’t like certain things like huge, huge, huge desks, or large pool tables or aquariums that are the size of Cleveland or things like that. So, really large items—things that aren’t safe to resell.
We pay attention to the government guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and there are certain things—because of the technology or just general safety concerns—that we don’t like.
The other type of thing is, if you wouldn’t want to use it yourself, you shouldn’t donate it. We want something that’s clean and healthy, and that next person who does have a chance to use it, it’ll be hazard-free for them.”
One reason it is so difficult for domestic violence victims to leave is because their abusers often take over financial control. How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting this and what do you think can be done to help people finding it harder to leave?
“That is a super great question, and there’s no easy answer for it. Yes, there’s additional stress—both in financial circumstances and the proximity to your abuser. Let me talk about finances first. The government relief programs are great, and there’s a lot of local people who are stepping up and trying to help needy people. But, all those sorts of relief connections take time. It takes time for the money to come in.
So, the suggestion always is for anyone in a relationship to try to establish their own credit, their own separate banking accounts, and things like that if it’s at all practical to do that. Having some money squirreled away so that you can make a more informed and capable escape from your situation is critical.
The other tricky part right now, especially with the [coronavirus], is that people are shut in together to a degree that they weren’t before. Typically, an abuser doesn’t like being out of their own routine, and it’s an opportunity for that person to get triggered and act really, really badly towards their victims.
Our suggestion here is to try to create circumstances where you can have some alone time. It could be a trip to the store, it could be a trip to the bathroom inside the store if you’re shopping as a group. Or, it could be going into the garage or into a car if you have access to a car just to get a little privacy. At that point when you have that privacy, we encourage people to call a number like our helpline which is 281-347-HELP… Or, get on our website, which is FFBWC.org.
Folks can get connected with our team 24/7 and explain, ‘Hey, I’m in the middle of something that’s really ugly… Can you give me some quick ideas about what I can do to try to make my situation better?’
Our staff is trained to help get people started to plan that exit. Unfortunately just like you say with the financial stresses and being in close proximity to your abuser, it’s harder than ever to do that right now. Typically, in a standard situation, statistics say that it takes something like seven attempts before someone can actually exit a toxic relationship. I can only imagine that it’s harder right now.”
What housing, financial, or moving resources would you recommend to people who currently feel trapped in abusive domestic situations?
“The best thing that they can do is to leave with a concrete plan where to go, who to be with, when to be there, how to get there. Our 24/7 helpline has trained folks that’ll assist with those sorts of issues. It’s always a challenge to leave and to bring enough with you. Sometimes people are leaving money and checkbooks behind, they’re leaving credit cards behind, they’re leaving family members and pets behind. A lot of times, when the survivors are fleeing, they’re bringing some family members, but some of them are still in school or across town or doing something and they can’t have an intact family.
But the more time you have to think about what you need when you get to your new space, the more successful that situation is going to be. And, making a plan about how and when and what to bring and who to bring is critical. There are resources that we have online for that, as well as counselors.”
If people want to get involved with donating or volunteering, what are some important things they need to know?
“The ‘where to learn more’ part is easy! We just updated our website, so again it’s FBWC.org for Fort Bend Women’s Center. There are a couple different types of volunteering that people can do: You can get some specialized training to work directly with clients. We do background checks and we go through an extensive training program that’s certified by the office—or, the Attorney General’s office here in Texas. Then, folks can accompany people to court, or go to hospitals, or work one-on-one with their children… All sorts of things.
But the easier way, something that groups can do that doesn’t take as much training, is to volunteer inside our PennyWise stores. Lots of people can relate to working inside retail stores, and we work real hard to have the volunteers that work in PennyWise help us prepare the items for sale, help us treat our customers nicely and just do things inside stores. That’s a great opportunity for individuals to come in anywhere from 15-90, to volunteer, and for large groups to come in and help us.
We work with donors of money too, and obviously cash is always acceptable. There’s portals on our website for financial assistance, and for pledges for future assistance. There’s information about fundraising programs that we have, because we have special events that are great. Also, just in general, we love and need volunteers.
So if you’re donating items, you’re donating yourself, or you’re donating your time, we can put that to use and you will feel satisfied at the end of your donating experience or volunteer experience that you’ve done some immediate good.”
What is Fort Bend Women’s Center’s vision for the future?
“It’s sort of funny because our CEO says we’d love to put ourselves out of business.
We’ve talked about the fact that we help survivors to get on their feet, get away from their traumatic situations, in short-term and long-term health, and we talked about the PennyWise program and how it helps fund the organization but something I haven’t spoken about yet is our prevention programs.
We do some prevention and some community outreach so that people in our community—from student groups to social organizations, to law enforcement and healthcare providers—understand the dynamics of healthy relationships, what to look for, what to expect, and how to stand up for yourself and what consent looks like. There are people who have been exposed to unhealthy behavior for a long, long time, and they don’t realize how utterly toxic their circumstances are. So, our prevention program helps to show what the norms of behavior are and helps to get at those people early enough to potentially solve some of the problems.
One of the cool things that we do when working with our survivors, is about half of our clients are kids. It’s the adult in the relationship that’s usually fleeing, but they’re bringing children with them. Those kids sometimes are direct abuse victims, but more often are indirectly abused and they’re aware of how badly their parent has been treating the other parent.
Breaking that cycle of violence in someone who’s young is incredibly critical to their long-term health and emotional stability.
So, the prevention efforts that we’re making is what we want to continue to emphasize a lot. We’re glad that we’ve had an opportunity to serve a lot of people in a lot of ways. We are doing trauma-based treatments with people. We’re recognizing that many of our clients have physical issues. We have a lot of people that we’re helping who have had chemical dependencies, or traumatic brain injuries, and that changes how they’re able to handle their own treatment. So we’re sensitive to that, and have developed some new therapies to do a better job connecting with those folks.”
National & Local Resources to Help Stop Domestic Abuse
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation and needs help, please contact the following for help:
- Fort Bend County Women’s Center (FBWC.org)
- Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC.org)
- National Domestic Violence Hotline ( 1-800-799-7233, *Advocates are available 24/7. All calls are free & confidential)