When Gail Parker decided to flee an abusive relationship earlier this year, she figured she‘d gain some freedom and safety, but lose a lot of her stuff.
“How am I going to replace baby pictures?” the mother of three remembered asking herself.
“The momma day cards and all the Christmas cards and the necklaces they made out of straw and macaroni,” said Parker listing the things she was forced to leave behind. She thought they‘d all be lost once she fled her home following an assault in August.
But when she arrived at the Interval House shelter, a volunteer connected her to the The Shelter Movers of Toronto, a non–profit that bills itself as a moving company for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
On Wednesday, the charity held its first fundraising gala at the Berkeley Church on Queen Street East and Berkeley Street.
After Parker successfully fled her home, Shelter Movers helped her return to collect her possessions. She says the charity organized moving vehicles, rounded up volunteers and ensured her safety when they picked up the belongings she was forced to leave behind after she fled.
“It doesn‘t mean anything to anybody else but to me those are gifts more precious than gold,” Parker said.
‘Only scratching the surface‘
Since launching in February, The Shelter Movers of Toronto have helped 35 women and their families fleeing domestic abuse.
“And those are 35 women with children who would have otherwise never seen their possessions again,” said Marc Hull–Jacquin, Shelter Movers‘ founder and executive director.
The Shelter Movers provide three types of services:
An “urgent exit,” where movers quickly pack up two boxes of items, an “escorted move” where they help women return to their homes to collect their belongings, and eventually, a “resettlement move” when the family is ready to move into their new home.
Hull–Jacquin estimates some 50 families will have used those services by the end of the year, but that is just a fraction of the number of people who would benefit from the service.
“The need is extraordinary in Toronto,” Hull–Jacquin added. “There are literally thousands of women and children waking up every morning to abuse.”
Clients, volunteers praise service
After starting with just four people, the Shelter Movers now boast around 100 volunteers, some of whom say they‘re working dozens of hours with the organization every week.
“I would say it‘s a second full–time job for me,” said Trish Yeung. In addition to her full time job with the city of Toronto‘s employment and social services, she‘s now the Shelter Movers‘ community relations director, a position that averages “six to seven hours a day, seven days a week.”
Despite those long hours, Yeung called the work “the most rewarding thing that I‘ve ever participated in.”
Volunteer Vicky Sage worked with Gail Parker during her move. “It was great to be part of that process and part of that journey with her,” she said.
Now safe from her abuser, Parker worked her way around the gala, thanking Sage and the volunteers she calls “angel warriors” during the Wednesday night event.
“I stumble for words because there‘s no words to describe it but at least you can see I‘ve got a goofy smile on my face,” she said, laughing.
Nick Boisvert · CBC News