A lot of work goes into those little Pandora’s boxes of goodness, but the rewards are pretty sweet.
ON MY HONOR, Girl Scout cookies used to seem so sweet and simple. A badge-covered child knocked on your door with an order form, or smiled from a table outside the grocery store. The biggest challenge was calculating the purchase ratio of Thin Mints to Samoas.
Then my daughter turned 7 and joined a Brownie troop, where I learned the secret life of the cookie mom. You wouldn’t believe the logistics, financial risk and storage space required for even a small group of second-grade cookie-sellers.
And let’s not mention the will power required not to eat the merchandise.
As cookie season kicks in for 2019 (booth sales run March 1-17), be aware that it all starts with a truck, or at least a van. As in, can anyone drive one to the cookie warehouse? To Tukwila, in our case last year? To pick up the hundreds of boxes even our low-key, no-pressure troop had presold, plus extras for booth sales?
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I couldn’t do the driving, but my family could pitch in for the next part: unloading and storing that haul; lining our living room, office and hallway with cookies; unloading cases and counting out each Scout’s order; coordinating pickups; double-checking handwritten order sheets; getting required signatures; and repeating as needed over the next month.
Friends I’d known for years turned out to be experienced with the whole routine. It seems like one of those weird education rituals of parenthood, like when you learn that whole grapes are a choking hazard, or discover that installing a car seat practically requires an engineering degree.
The girls contribute, and the whole point is for them to learn business skills while raising money — but even motivated, responsible 7-year-olds can’t do things like handle the Ticketmaster-like website crush at 6:30 a.m. the day sign-ups open for cookie-booth sales. (Thanks to our superhuman troop leader, Danielle, for figuring that one out.)
The Girl Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” but the harder point from the adults’ side is not being paranoid. Say a case of cookies disappears from the booth, or a neighbor preorders 10 boxes but doesn’t have $50 on delivery day? The Scout would still be liable for the payment. (It would be easy to resell Thin Mints, but what about the neighbor who advance-ordered Toffee-tastics?) If the troop overestimates how many boxes it’ll sell at a booth, the Scouts are limited in their ability to return extras. Adults need to figure out whether and how to take credit cards, stock small bills to start out the day … and find the balance between letting the girls handle sales and not panicking about how they’re guarding their bag packed with cookie cash.
I asked the Girl Scouts of Western Washington office how often my fears come to pass about financial catastrophes. Their administrators had reassuring answers, saying the organization averages fewer than one theft of that sort per year, and that it’ll work directly with the Scout or troop if it happens. They explained some of the issues around why Scouts can’t collect upfront payments, and why we can’t unilaterally return extras. (Operation Cookie Drop, where customers donate money to send boxes to the military, helps reduce that financial risk.) The rise of online sales should help with both the workload and cash flow. (Our troop is trying that this year.) You don’t even need to do booth sales if the chaperoning and schlepping is too much to handle.
And no, they reassured me: I’m far from the only parent who had no idea how big the cookie job could be.
As the troop parents gathered to plan our 2019 cookie season, though, I realized something more: I’d also had no idea about the size of the rewards.
Cookie sales sent my daughter to her first sleep-away camp, a two-night trip where no families had to weigh camp costs against other financial needs. Ditto when her troop went snowshoeing and borrowed all the equipment from Scout headquarters, which gets a cut of each sale. I can’t put a price on her confidence after gearing herself up to knock on neighborhood doors, or her glee at a big sale.
The girls did learn to work together, to boost their business acumen and social skills, to handle rejection with grace (though, honestly, they didn’t get much rejection). They made community friends like the crew at D’Ambrosio Gelato, who invited them in to set up a table, placed the largest order of the day and served up seasonal gelato packed with Thin Mints. They saw how generous passers-by could be, donating cookies to the military troops.
I was thinking about all that after the parent meeting, and looking over the Girl Scout oath, where Scouts pledge to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring.
I’d seen a lot of that from the adults, as well as the kids. Not as simple as it once looked, for sure. But plenty sweet.