North Carolina Meals on Wheel Workers Quit over Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 1/17/2014

Volunteer background checks are a necessity in many situations nowadays, from youth sports to caretaking initiatives. One such caretaking business, the Meals on Wheels branch of Sylva, North Carolina (located in Jackson County) recently instituted a new background screening initiative for its volunteers. Many longtime workers for the division were incredibly displeased by the new screening requirement, so much so that a few of them have opted to give up their volunteer positions rather than have their integrity questioned by a background check.

To be fair, the Sylva Meals on Wheels branch, run by the Jackson County Department on Aging, did not design the new background check policy of its own volition. In fact, the new background check initiative is a countywide movement and is something that County Manager Chuck Wooten has been working toward for quite some time now, according to a local publication called The Sylva Herald. Wooten was concerned about the fact that Jackson County’s ranks of volunteers – which includes between 200 and 300 individuals – were allowed to serve in a variety of county services without proper background check clearance. County Commissioners saw reason in Wooten’s concerns and decided to protect the county by requiring all volunteers to submit to mandatory background checks – regardless of position or time of service.

The fact that a service like Meals on Wheels would require background checks for its employees and volunteers is hardly surprising. The service, which brings meals to aging or disabled citizens still living on their own, gives its workers access to vulnerable people and plentiful opportunities for theft or fraud. A move by a Meals on Wheels branch to require background checks is as natural and essential as a nursing home or caring facility instituting those requirements.

It also isn’t shocking that Jackson County chose to screen all of its volunteers, regardless of how many years of good service different volunteers had already given to the community. It is impossible to know who is a criminal or a sex offender without a background check, and Jackson County is protecting itself from liability by requiring all volunteers to submit to background checks. The checks now required for volunteers are, according to Wooten, identical to those that are required of actual county employees. In other words, they are pretty much standard issue employment background checks, including searches of national criminal databases, sex offender registries, and driving histories. has services available for such checks, as well as for more unique screenings such as employment and academic verifications.

Still, despite the self-explanatory nature of Jackson County’s new volunteer background check procedure, many of the volunteers for Sylva’s Meals on Wheels branch took the policy amendment as a personal insult. The branch lost numerous longtime volunteers who felt that, after years of spotless service and countless hours of faithful volunteer work, they deserved a bit more trust from the county. The volunteers chose to quit their positions rather than submit to background checks, leaving Sylva’s Meals on Wheels branch a hair understaffed as it heads into 2014. The branch currently consists of about 70 volunteers and is hoping to find a few more to replace the stalwart veterans who chose to discontinue their service.


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