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Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

15 million boxes of unsold cookies remain after pandemic caused fewer girls to sell in person.

A Girl Scout donates cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. The pandemic disrupted the cookie sale this spring as many troops canceled their traditional booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)

The Girl Scouts have an unusual problem this year: 15 million boxes of unsold cookies.

The 109-year-old organization says the coronavirus pandemic — not thinner demand for Thin Mints — is the main culprit. As the pandemic persisted into the spring selling season, many troops canceled their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons.

“This is unfortunate, but given this is a girl-driven program and the majority of cookies are sold in-person, it was to be expected,” said Kelly Parisi, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA.

The impact will be felt by local councils and troops, which depend on the cookie sales to fund programming, travel, camps and other activities. The Girl Scouts normally sell about 200 million boxes of cookies per year, or about $800 million worth.

Rebecca Latham, the chief executive of Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails, said troops in her area sold 805,000 boxes of cookies last year; this year, they sold just under 600,000. That shortfall means the council may not be able to invest in improvements at its camps or fill some staff positions, she said.

The council is encouraging people to buy boxes online through its Hometown Heroes program, which distributes cookies to health-care workers, firefighters and others.

It’s unclear how much of a financial hit the Girl Scouts experienced because of the decline in sales, because the organization won’t reveal those figures. And it isn’t the biggest blow the cookie program has faced. That probably came during World War II, when the Girl Scouts were forced to shift from selling cookies to calendars because of wartime shortages of sugar, butter and flour.

Some local leaders say this year’s slower sales should have been better predicted because falling membership was threatening cookie sales even before the pandemic began. About 1.7 million girls were enrolled in Girl Scouts in 2019, down almost 30 percent from 2009.

There were other reasons for the declining sales. Some local leaders say they might have sold cookies this year but chose not to because of an Associated Press story linking child labor to the palm oil that is used to make Girl Scout cookies.

Gina Verdibello, a troop leader in Jersey City, New Jersey, said her 21-member troop, which has girls ages 10 to 15, decided to boycott this year’s cookie program and held a protest at their city hall. Verdibello said she knows of at least a dozen other troops that opted not to sell because of the palm oil issue.

“We want to sell cookies. It’s part of our thing. But this is putting kind of a damper on it,” said Verdibello, whose troop has continued to fund activities with donations from people who heard about their boycott.

Parisi said such boycotts weren’t widespread. But she said the Girl Scouts are working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a nonprofit group that sets environmental and social standards for the industry, to ensure farmers are meeting those standards.

— Associated Press

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