Thinking outside of the (cookie) box: Girl Scouts get innovative during pandemic

Each year, March marks the start of Girl Scout cookie booth season. In a typical year, you’d be greeted by a smiling Brownie or Junior at your neighborhood grocery store asking, “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?”

But as we approach the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, with masks and social distancing, local Girl Scout troops have been forced to adapt to a different world.

“There's been a ton of innovation this year from girls,” says Emily Ayers, marketing coordinator for Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio. “A lot of the tactics that girls are using this year are things that they used last year, too. Now they're kind of perfecting them.”

Abigail Gold, of Troop 71672, makes a socially-distanced cookie delivery.Since some chain stores declined to host cookie booth sites this year because of the pandemic, girls and their caregivers contacted locations in their communities to set up their own booths.

“Many [cookie sales] will pop up in schools, churches, or community centers where girls are going to be doing socially-distanced, safe cookie booth drive-throughs,” says Ayers.

Troop 71672 is a special interest “travel troop,” open to girls in fifth through 12th grades from communities around Northeast Ohio. The troop focuses on travel—regional, domestic, and international trips—and the profits from cookie sales fund their journeys.

“I want travel opportunities to be open to girls from every socio-economic background,” says troop leader Kimberlee Ullner. And they have big goals. Last year, the troop sold about 6,000 boxes.

This March, the girls in Troop 71672 will be hosting outdoor cookie booths at Zagara's Marketplace in Cleveland Heights (March 12-14 and 19-21) and a drive-through booth at Huntington Bank in Pepper Pike (March 12-14). “Everybody will be masked. We're going to have a laminated menu that we can sanitize before it goes to the next person,” says Ullner. “We’re trying to make it as COVID-friendly as possible.”

Service Unit 707, representing troops in Fairview Park, set up multiple drive-through booths around the city. Girl Scouts will be at Gilles-Sweet Elementary School and New Hope Church every Saturday and Sunday this month starting Saturday, March 13. “In Fairview Park, we're super lucky—we have so much community support around Girl Scout cookies,” says service unit director Heather Renz. “Last year, we donated cookies to workers at Target and the hospitals here.”

Girl Scout cookies are a big business. According to Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio, in 2020 local girls sold over 2.3 million boxes of cookies. Although many area troops report their in-person sales are down this season, online sales have improved.

A troop of first and second graders based in Lakewood made door hangers with QR codes linked to each girl’s Digital Cookie website. “I bought the template from someone on Etsy,” says troop leader Cathy Livingston. “One girl put them all over her neighborhood and got an extra 25 sales.”

With the pandemic, Girl Scouts has expanded its online offering as well. You can download the Cookie Finder app for Android or iOS and get updates on cookie booths in your area. Or visit the Girls Scout cookie page and enter your ZIP code to find booths near you or buy cookies online from a local Girl Scout troop without ever having to leave the house.

In the end, at least 80 cents of every box sold stays with the troop, which motivates girls to keep innovating to reach their goals. “I do believe that we teach the girls really good skills,” says Ullner. “These are wonderful opportunities, and I want to make sure that we have those for the girls. That's why we sell cookies.”

Read more articles by Lisa Galek.

Lisa Galek is a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in Cleveland Magazine, The Buckeye Flame, Northeast Ohio Parent, Refinery29 and on, literally, thousands of American Greetings cards. She lives in the suburbs of Cleveland with her husband and three very clever daughters.