That’s me, in the Cookie Monster onesie, dragging the wagon full of Thin Mints and Caramel DeLites up a hill.
That’s also me, in the chocolate chip cookie costume, balancing a box of Adventurefuls on my head.
And that’s my daughter, in her Girl Scout vest (please don’t look too closely — a numeral fell off, so her troop number is off by several thousand), faintly stalking as we stick flyers in mailboxes and make home deliveries and rejoice when someone finally says, “Why yes! I’ll take two boxes of Peanut Butter Patties and two Toast-Yays!”
You, good citizens, see us and our ilk behind card tables outside your local Ralphs and Trader Joe’s and Pavilions. There we are, the sugar pushers, at your front doors. There we are, the carb evangelists, on your social media feeds.
Perhaps you’ve already purchased cookies from your granddaughter. Perhaps you’re diabetic and cannot survive being left alone with an entire box of Thin Mints. So you don’t answer the door, or you scroll past our QR code, or you look awkwardly at your feet to avoid our pathetic, pleading smiles as you enter and exit the grocery store.
I am here to tell you what it feels like from the other side. I am here to tell you how much money the Girl Scouts make from cookie sales. I am here to tell you that this sugar-fueled engine has powered the mighty machine that helped mold Janet Reno and Sally Ride, Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, Sandra Day O’Connor and Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as a positively alarming number of singers, actors and journalists.
All were once Girl Scouts.
Preparing for life The cookie program helps prepare girls for Real Life, they say. Consider what happened to my colleague Samantha Gowen and her wide-eyed 11-year-old at a booth at the Army-Navy store in Old Towne Orange.
A diehard animal lover stopped dead center at their 8-foot cookie table, lecturing them about the horrors of the American slaughterhouse. Gowen advised the visitor that at least six of the Girl Scout cookie offerings are vegan! “Enjoy your vegan Thin Mints!” Gowen cried, trying to move the shock-and-awe storyteller along.
“You know, it’s just awful how they rip baby dairy calves away from their mothers and kill them days after they’re born,” the visitor told Gowen and her girl. “And don’t get me started on the chickens and how they die from the heat, trampling each other in ‘cage-free’ barns!”
“Um, we try to eat vegan a couple days a week,” Gowen’s 11-year-old offered.
Vikki Shepp, CEO of Girl Scouts of Orange County. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG) “Well, you can do better! There are so many options for food …”
Another buyer miraculously appeared, distracting Gowen’s stunned child. Just another day in sales for America’s budding businesswomen! Gowen said.
So, yes, cookie selling is valuable preparation for Real Life, and not just in the ways the Girl Scouts envision.
“Last year, our chief of mission delivery dressed in a dolphin costume and posed for pictures with our cookie entrepreneurs,” said Katharine Bennett of Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio.
Brooklyn Chiya from Girl Scout Daisy from Troop 1198 in Anaheim Hills
Sisters Charlotte Chiya from Girl Scout Junior Troop 6170 in Anaheim Hills and Brooklyn Chiya from Girl Scout Daisy Troop 1198 in Anaheim Hills work together.
Charlotte Chiya from Girl Scout Junior Troop 6170 in Anaheim Hills holds her lucky woodchuck in hopes of great sales.
“This year, girls are dressed as Adventureful and other cookie-themed costumes. During the cookie sale, we host weekly contests we call ‘Bling your booth.’ Girls are encouraged to decorate their booth in fun and unique ways, and we often get hundreds of photo entries. We’re proud to see how creative our Girl Scouts can get!”
Cookies went from $5 last year to $6 this year — inflation! we say, which has led to some interesting exchanges — thus requiring the Littles to really step up their math game. Orange County armed each scout with a calculator and badge holder featuring a pull-out multiplication table, just to be sure they can double-check the six times table, O.C.’s Julie Weeks said.
“Girl Scouts is the nation’s premiere leadership development program for girls from all cultures, ZIP codes and walks of life,” say the tax returns the Girl Scout councils file with the IRS. “The challenges girls face today are greater than ever and they affect all girls….A recent report from the Girl Scout Research Institute showed that a girl’s desire to lead is strongest when she is eight years old, yet declines dramatically when she is 16….
“Girl Scouting provides expanded leadership and learning opportunities for girls in areas that fill critical talent gaps like finance, science, technology and the environment. Additionally, the Girl Scout cookie sale program is the nation’s largest business and financial skills development program for girls.”
For girls — and their parents.
Mamas (and papas) on deck My daughter joined Girl Scouts in first grade. The math and organizational skills were still, how shall we say, under construction. So she stood there in her little blue Daisy vest looking adorable while yours truly chirped “Girl Scout cookies!” and held the money pouch and made the change and took the inventory and figured out what we needed to fill orders next week and the week after.
The columnist’s daughter at a Vons location during her Brownie years. (Photo by Teri Sforza, SCNG) It was the weight of this burden that we heard about most often from other Girl Scout parents. Speaking of weight — do you know what it’s like to have hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies in your home? Late at night, they talk to you. “I am here,” they whisper. I gained 10 pounds that first year.
My daughter’s goal then was to sell 100 boxes. We sold twice as many (OK, I probably devoured most of them, but whatever). Each box generated about $1 for the troop to keep, and the wee girls made a respectable showing that allowed them to donate toys to a children’s hospital and pay for a troop trip to the trampoline park. And no one broke a leg!
Daisy turned to Brownie, Brownie to Junior. We manned a cookie booth inside a brewery that sold Girl Scout cookie-flavored beer. This, like blue food, is simply wrong. In those long, quiet stretches between customers, we sang this to the tune of “Good Night Ladies”: “Girl Scout cookies, Girl Scout cookies, Girl Scout cookies, they’re good with milk and beer.”
The kid is getting serious about the “leadership” and “make the world a better place” thing she keeps hearing about. During the pandemic, the cookie-selling season was extended and the kid was old enough to (tentatively) engage potential customers, do the math (more or less), and make change, mostly without bills blowing away. She sold more than 1,000 boxes that year. Her troop built and stocked several Little Libraries, and went to a Roar ‘n Snore at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Photo courtesy of Teri Sforza, SCNG Junior turned to Cadette. My daughter is in middle school now — apparently when a lot of girls leave scouting — but she’s in it for the long haul. Friendsgiving! Decorating local shop windows (and cleaning them up)! Troop meetings, ice skating, ballet performances, caroling, ballgames, community work and — price of admission — cookie season!
This is our sixth. My daughter is not a natural salesperson. Neither am I. We can’t quite grasp the mastery of kids like San Bernardino’s Lilly Bumpus, who sold more than 32,000 boxes in 2021 to help support pediatric cancer patients and their families. Or of Hailey Heren of Anaheim, who set the Orange County record for single-year sales at 13,093 boxes in 2021. How do you do THAT?!
Money Confession: I didn’t want my girls to be Girl Scouts. I had baggage from my own scouting days a thousand years ago, when you had to wear the military-type uniform and earn sewing and baking badges. I stunk at sewing and baking and selling cookies but tried because I desperately wanted to go on the year-end camping trip. Three years in a row, the camping trip was canceled.
Girl Scouting is so much different now. The sewing and baking badges take a big back seat to cybersecurity and coding and programming badges. “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place,” the O.C. council states. “The Girl Scout Research Institute … reported that women who were Girl Scouts when they were young have higher perceptions of self, higher rates of volunteerism and civic engagement, higher rates of college education and higher household incomes than non-alumnae.”
Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio volunteer Zoë Minter (File photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG) I’m delighted at the “I can do it, I can change it, I can help” mindset my daughter is developing through scouting. If cookies are the fuel propelling the programs that make it happen, so be it. You’ll find us outside a grocery store near you.
How much money are we talking about? According to their most recent tax returns, cookie sales provided some 60% to 80% of local Girl Scout council revenues.
• The Girl Scouts of Orange County had total revenue of $10.6 million. The sale of goods — primarily cookies — generated $14.1 million; less $5.4 million to acquire them; for a net of $8.7 million.
• The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles had total revenue of $22.1 million. The sale of goods, primarily cookies, generated $34.6 million; less $15 million to acquire them; for a net of $19.6 million.
• The Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio had total revenue of $10.6 million. The sale of goods, primarily cookies, generated $15.1 million; less $8.3 million to acquire them; for a net of $6.8 million.
We choose to think of it not just as sugar, but as empowerment. We note though, with some consternation, that local Girl Scout CEOs make markedly less than a local Boy Scout CEO.
To wit: Girl Scouts Los Angeles’ CEO had total compensation of $313,391. Orange County’s CEO, $219,328. San Gorgonio’s CEO, $217,694.
The Boy Scouts of Orange County CEO (whose operation is far smaller than the Los Angeles Girl Scouts, and nearly identical to O.C. and San Gorgonio in terms of revenue) had compensation of $475,721.
Clearly, there’s still quite a bit of work to do. But, hey! At least we don’t have to sell popcorn. Cookie sales end March 12 in L.A. and O.C., and March 19 in San Gorgonio’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Thin Mints and female empowerment, anyone?