Girl Scout cookies have faithfully brought joy to Americans for over 100 years. Despite its longevity, this time-honored tradition has not come without its setbacks. During the Depression Era, the business was scaled nationally to overcome economic hardships. In the 1940s, war-related shortages of sugar, flour and butter caused Girl Scouts to sell their first calendars to make ends meet.
The nuanced challenges of COVID-19 present new hurdles to overcome, but perhaps what has sustained the Girl Scouts through hardships are the tenacious, pioneering spirits of girls across America.
Like other organizations, COVID-19 has caused the Girl Scouts to dramatically change how they put on events and mentor members. In past years, local Girl Scout troops have made the John J. Hemmingson Rotunda a bustling site for cookie sales.
Thin Mints and Carmel deLites attract a cult-like following every spring, as the cookie sales alone comprise an $800 million business. A lesser known fact, is that all of the net revenue from sales stays within the local area for sponsored programs, scholarships and other community-based events. This year, COVID-19 has tested not only cookie sales, but also the interpersonal connections between the kids who rely on Girl Scouts as a safe space.
“It’s very hard for them,” said Renee Smock, chief operating officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.
“Kids all over are feeling the same things, but the main thing Girl Scouts are missing is time together and sisterhood,” Smock said.
Most troop meetings are held virtually. Girl Scouts USA partnered with Zoom to provide discounted service links, a collaboration referred to as ‘gsZoom.’
This year, the organization has also been able to provide mental health training to troop leaders so they can best serve the needs of the children they mentor during the pandemic.
Cookie sales, which are the primary source of the organization’s funding, were impacted heavily last spring. Last March, the start of the sale period for local troops and the beginning of quarantine coincided.
“Cookie sales did not happen for us last year,” Smock said. “We learned a lot.”
Now, the Girl Scouts are adopting a hybrid approach, with virtual meetings and a smattering of in-person events, such as a successful summer camp experience in Idaho. Staff are hopeful and impressed by the innovative spirit of scouts in the program, yet remain braced for the unexpected and have further developed their digital platform for cookie sales.
Additionally, Girl Scouts have the ability to send a personalized Amazon link to friends and family for direct sales, but customers can also shop using the ZIP code locator under the “find cookies” tab at any regional Girl Scouts website, or at girlscouts.org.
Some in-person sales will continue at select locations this spring, beginning March 26. Gonzaga students can expect to see troops outside the Safeway on Mission and Hamilton Street, as well as several Albertson’s and Walmart locations in town.
Smock believes the digital platform is here to stay and that it is a platform of commerce which will always be part of the world that Girl Scouts live in today. She also credits the pandemic with further enabling girls to hone their 21st century entrepreneurial skills.
One troop utilizing social media to bolster cookie sales are the Pathfinders, a grant-funded program providing membership to underserved girls from underserved areas at no cost to their families. On the Pathfinders Facebook page, users can click links which directly route them to the online shopping option.
The Pathfinders program serves many girls from the Northeast and West Central neighborhoods of Spokane who have had the opportunity to participate in several in-person activities, COVID-19 restrictions permitting.
Community Outreach Specialist Natalie Giles said that the Pathfinders program recently included a winter day camp with rock climbing, archery and other outdoor activities. She said that the organization has adopted a hybrid approach, but most activities are virtual rather than in person.
Several annual events remained highly successful when translated to an online format. One such event was “Spooky Science,” a STEM-geared workshop with Halloween-themed science experiments to commemorate the birthday of Girl Scouts USA founder, Juliette Gordon Low.
“The best way to support Girl Scouts right now is to buy cookies,” Giles said.
Besides supporting Girl Scouts by buying cookies, there are a variety of opportunities to volunteer with troops in Spokane. The organization encourages both long-term and one-time volunteer commitments, where guests can share hobbies, talents and interests with members at troop meetings.
Despite numerous setbacks, the Girl Scouts of America stand by their long-time motto to “Be prepared,” and maintain high spirits during an era of great adversity.