Last year, the pandemic threw Girl Scout cookie sales into crisis mode as Scouts struggled to sell a warehouse full of cookies with everything shut down. This year, they’re ready, primed with all the lessons they learned.
“There will be in-person booth sales,” said Renee Smock, Chief Operating Officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and North Idaho. “This is our normal time of year when girls are collecting orders from family and friends.”
Public cookie sales are scheduled to begin March 26, which is good news for everyone in need of a few boxes of Thin Mints. The Girl Scouts will be returning to the front of grocery stores throughout the area after having to take last year off.
“They’re really excited to have girls come back and sell cookies this year,” she said.
Booth sales will look a little different. The Scouts will be wearing face masks, and there will be large supplies of hand sanitizer. Cleaning protocols will be followed, and the tables will be farther from store entries than before and have fewer girls selling cookies at once.
But there will be other purchasing options as well. Last year, quite a few Girl Scouts were successful in hosting drive-thru events and selling cookies from their own driveways, and that will continue this year.
“Our girls were incredibly innovative,” Smock said.
The cookies are key to funding Girl Scout programs. A portion of each box sold is given to the seller’s troop, and it’s used for activities that can include trips. A portion also goes to the local conference.
“Cookie sales remain our main revenue source,” Smock said.
Smock said the Girl Scouts are “definitely” among the nonprofit organizations that have taken a funding hit during the pandemic.
“We have less girls selling cookies this year,” she said. “We have fewer members this year.”
The organization usually recruits new members through local schools, most of which have been shut down until recently. Girl Scout troops also can’t meet in person yet, dampening enthusiasm.
“We’ve had a loss in connectivity to our girls,” she said.
Girl Scout Natalie Olinger, who is in eighth grade this year, sold cookies from her front yard last year. Either she, her mom or a fellow Girl Scout would stand on her South Hill street holding a sign to flag down drivers.
“It went very well,” she said. “I sold twice as many cookies last year as I did the year before. Last year, I sold 2,438 boxes.”
It helped that the cookie season was extended a few times to allow girls the best chance to sell all their cookies. Olinger said it was her mother’s idea to sell the cookies at home.
“We’d had the idea of a drive-up cookie booth for a couple years, but there was no reason to do it until last year,” she said.
Her goal this year is to sell 3,000 boxes. She plans to continue selling from her front yard, but she’ll also be selling at a booth at a local store.
“Hopefully between both of those I’ll be able to sell even more cookies,” she said.
One of her goals is to earn “cookie dough” from selling cookies that she can use to attend space camp.
“I thought it sounded really fun,” she said. “Because of COVID it got postponed, postponed.”
Another goal is to earn money for college. For girls in grades seven-12, each box sold adds 50 cents to a college scholarship.
Olinger said her No. 1 seller is Thin Mints, followed by Samoas. Local Girl Scouts CEO Brian Newberry said that’s the case for the entire region.
“It’s the love of chocolate in the Inland Northwest that sustains us,” he said. “This cookie sale is vital to our future.”
Last year, the local conference was one of only five in the country that hadn’t completed their cookie sale before the pandemic hit.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re one of the few councils that have to do this two years in a row,” Newberry said.
One of the improvements made in response to the pandemic was in digital sales, though.
“We are continuing to be very innovative in a digital world,” he said.
Online sales have been steadily increasing since they began three years ago, Smock said. By this time last year, Girl Scouts had sold 13,000 boxes of cookies online compared with 8,000 by this time in 2019. This year, Girl Scouts have sold 32,000 boxes of cookies online so far.
“There’s been a lot of growth there,” she said. “It has become a crucial part of the cookie program due to the pandemic.”
People can visit www.gsewni.org and enter their ZIP code to find a Girl Scout Troop selling cookies in their neighborhood. Cookie enthusiasts can order online and have them shipped to their door. The site also lists local booth sales by ZIP code so people can see where booths are set up for in-person purchases.
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