Buy a cookie…help a Girl Scout

Odyssey Middle School students and Girl Scouts (front

Local troops learn skills, help others by selling boxes of sweets.

When considering the positive influence Girl Scout activities have had on Bainbridge Island’s girls over the years, it makes one wonder how many entrepreneurs have been spawned by the annual cookie sale.

Arguably, the seemingly simple act of selling a box or 10 or 300 of thin mints and tagalongs and samoas for a month each year probably has been more beneficial to the girls than the cookie-craving adults who buy them.

“What I like about selling cookies,” said sixth-grader Caleigh Munoz, “is I get to learn business skills while having fun. What have I learned? That you need to sell and sell and sell. And you need to know everything you can about it because sometimes you have to talk people into it even when they really want to have a cookie but know they can’t. That’s when I tell them about cookie sharing, where they can buy a box and we’ll give it to someone else. I like that part.”

Caleigh ought to know, since she was last year’s unofficial champion cookie seller among the 325 island girls who belong to one of the 34 island Girl Scout troops. She sold 650 cookies a year ago and while she probably will fall short of that mark, she has already sold at least 300 of the $4 boxes during the two-week presale period.

The site sales begin today outside Town & Country, Safeway and Silver Screen Video, lasting for two weeks and three weekends.

If prudent, she and her fellow salesgirls will sample each of the eight types of cookies in order to be knowledgeable about the product. To those means, she admitted, her family had bought 20 boxes.

Yummy, people like to say, and it’s even for a good cause. Perhaps the best of it are the life lessons learned by the girls, but there’s more to it.

Last year in Western Washington, 17,800 girls sold more than 2.8 million boxes of cookies – 1.7 million of which went to troop activities. Cookie sales represent the scouts’ largest fund-raising event, and the proceeds, besides keep the troops busy, also include individual incentives for those who immerse themselves into the program.

Proceeds also go to several causes such as Bainbridge’s Helpline House and “Operation Cookie Drop,” which sends boxes to service members. Local girls sent more than a 1,000 to the military last year.

The nationwide distribution of the cookies (created by 11 different bakers) begins annually with presale deliveries in the third week of February, followed by periodic returns to a nearby storage unit as the site sales (two weeks and three weekends) begin.

When catching up this week with Mary Beth Petruska, who is the island’s cookie sales manager, she was returning from Silverdale where she had picked up another 90 cases of the sweets from a “cookie cupboard” storage space. The week before she and her adult volunteers had met at the Day Road Fire Station to unload and sort 1,516 presale cases that had been dropped off early in the morning by a semi-truck.

“We’re down about 23 percent from last year’s presales,” Petruska said, “but we anticipated that because of the economy. The girls are just getting more ‘no’s’. But we hope to make it up with our site sales by emphasizing that they’re giving to a fundraiser when buying our cookies.”

Island Girl Scouts sold 2,200 cases (26,400 boxes) in 2008.

Generally, girls from kindergarten through high school participate, but the youngest are in the training stage and the older girls tend to be involved in other fund-raising activities provided by Girl Scouts. The scouts in the middle ages seem to make the best sales girls, but all seem to enjoy it.

“It’s my experience that the girls just like doing it,” said Gillian Allard, who serves as the island’s service unit manager besides being a troop leader. “They soon learn the ropes and take a lot of pride in it.”

The group has turned the fund raiser into a learning experience by allowing the scouts to manage the “business” as much as possible.

“We work hard to have it be an educational experience,” Allard said. “They learn a lot about manners, how to approach people, how to sell and, of course, how to multiply times-four.”

They also make the decision on which service project they will be involved in each year. Allard’s girls decided to give teddy bears to kids in a hospital, coming up with $200 worth of the stuffed toys and then delivering them to Swedish Hospital.

“One year they did some grocery shopping for Helpline House,” she said. “Another service project included fund raising for warm coats we gave to kids in a town in Eastern Washington.”

As Caleigh Munoz puts it: “Selling is fun and we’re helping other people, too.”

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