Following Toys for Tots theft, how should nonprofits screen volunteers?

Theft from Toys for Tots shines light on questions organizations must face when screening volunteers

Following Toys for Tots theft, how should nonprofits screen volunteers?
The thieves posed as volunteers when they made off with $5,000 in toys meant for families in need this Christmas. (Bivins, Brittany)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - It’s a story worthy of the “Grinch who stole Christmas.”

Following Toys for Tots theft, how should nonprofits screen volunteers?

Security camera footage shows two people posing as volunteers, making away with $5,000 worth of toys meant for children in need.

The toys were being kept at the the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots storage area at First Faith Development Corp. in Akron ahead of distribution to families for Christmas gifts.

While authorities continue to search for the “Scrooges,” the incident does shed light on a problem faced by many non-profits: How do they screen volunteers when they’re so desperately needed, particularly when background checks can cost $40 each?

Hands on Northeast Ohio helps charities navigate this question. They recruit, screen, and train volunteers for hundreds of projects for dozens of non-profit organizations every year.

“This past year, 825 projects we did total. So what we do is go into nonprofits and provide them with volunteers that they wouldn’t have without our organization,” said Executive Director Lauren Penkala.

Sometimes the organizations request that Hands On assist them with conducting background checks. Formal background checks are often the norm only in situations when volunteers will be in people's homes or dealing with children.

“You really want to have your proper procedures in place, but what’s so important in my personal thought and experiences is making sure you trust your gut,” said Penkala. “If you meet someone or you see something that doesn’t seem exactly right, that you take care of it.”

Hands On Northeast Ohio is still searching for volunteers for a variety of nonprofits. To find out more about them and their upcoming events, head to the website.

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