Scouting Out the Girl Scouts

by Catherine Arjet

assistant arts & life editor

If you’ve noticed an influx of brightly colored boxes featuring pictures of smiling girls and filled with delicious cookies, it’s because Girl Scout cookie season has officially kicked off. From now until March 8 Girl Scouts across Mississippi will be selling their classic cookies for only $4 per box.

Girl Scout cookie sales are about much more than the cookies themselves. By giving girls an opportunity to become young entrepreneurs, Girl Scouts of the USA hopes to promote goal-setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics among their members, skills they call “essential to leadership, to success, and to life.” After paying the bakers, the revenue from the cookies is divided up among the council (the regional conglomerate of troops), and the individual troops. The money that goes to the council, about $2.40-3.00 per box, is used to support local programs (like camps), train and screen volunteers and help pay administrative costs. The troops themselves get $0.40-0.80 per box, which they put towards service projects, field trips, or other fun experiences for the girls. Many councils also offer incentives like Girl Scout store credit and camp scholarships.

The history of the Girl Scout cookie sales is as rich as the cookies themselves. The tradition began in 1917, just five years after Juliette Gordon Lowe founded Girl Scouts of America, when the Mistletoe troop of Muskogee, Oklahoma, sold homemade cookies in their high school cafeteria. The idea caught on, and in 1922, American Girl (then the official Girl Scout magazine) published an article with instructions on how to package and sell these cookies and a recipe. Back then, a dozen Girl Scout cookies cost only a quarter. By 1935, not only had commercially baked cookies taken off (starting with the cookies we now call Trefoils or Shortbreads), but over 125 Girl Scout councils across the country were holding their own cookie sales. Though cookie sales had to take a brief recess during WWII due to the rationing of baking supplies, they soon came back and better than ever, introducing the now famous Thin Mints. Both uniform boxes and a core of four bakers became standard in 1978, however, in the late 2000s the number of licensed bakers shrunk to the two we know and love today, Little Brownie Bakers and ABC bakers.

To get an insider’s perspective on cookie sales, we talked to local Girl Scouts Annie (age 10) and Sarah Cole (age 6), and their mother/troop leader Beth Herzig. The girls are members of troop 7562 and 3326, respectively, Although neither girl has a favorite part of cookie sales, they both enjoy them and say they feel like the cookie sales help teach them valuable life lessons. “It’s really fun,” says Sarah Cole.

Like many Girl Scout troops, troops 7562 and 3326 do a service project and a fun outing each year. “One time we went to Yogi Bear Park … and one time we actually went to the pet store and then we got to like, see all the different animals and then when our troop came at the end we got to try these dog treats and our whole troop said they were good,” Sarah Cole reminisces. Her mother explains that in year in question, the troop bought pet supplies that they then donated to the Madison County Animal shelter and were allowed to sample the dog treats. Although the plans field trip are still up in the air, the troops will be providing cookies to parents and children at Blair E. Batson children’s hospital through their Adopt-a-Floor program. Both girls say they’re considering going to Millsaps and have enjoyed working with the Kappa Delta chapter here.

Beyond the service projects individual troops do, many councils participate in a program often called “Operation Cookie” that gives cookies to soldiers serving in countries where Girl Scout cookies are not available. “If you don’t wanna buy any, you can donate them,” Annie explains. If you don’t want cookies, but want to support both kinds of troops, you can buy a box that will later be sent overseas.

“I’ve talked to a lot of enlisted people who’ve been overseas and they [said they] always had cookies, [and] ‘thank you so much,’” Beth says.

If you’re worried about dietary restrictions, Girl Scouts have you covered. To start with, all 12 kinds of cookies are kosher. Thin Mints are vegan (so are Lemonades, Thanks-a-Lots and Peanut Butter Patties, the ABC bakers equivalent of Tagalongs, but those aren’t sold in Mississippi). Staying away from gluten? The gluten-free Toffee-tastics make their debut this year (although each troop only got one case, so they’re hard to find). For those with severe nut allergies, every Little Brownie Baker cookie (the baker most commonly used east of the Mississippi) except Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos, and Savannah Smiles are completely nut free.