Alaskans love their Girl Scout Cookies -- all 375,000 boxes of them

Rest easy, Alaska: eating that entire box of Thin Mints, Samoas or Tagalongs on the way home from the store this spring was an excellent "pay it forward" investment. Your purchase helped Girl Scouts across the state develop business acumen that will last a lifetime. It also helps fund financial assistance for girls, even those who aren't Girl Scouts, to attend summer camp.

Weeks of hand-waving and staffing stands at grocery stores and special events paid off for Girls Scouts of Alaska, whose troops sold 375,000 boxes of cookies this year at $5 per box ($6 for the gluten-free version), raising nearly $2 million during a monthlong sales push that ended Easter Sunday. A few troops may still sell cookies at isolated events, but for the most part, sales are over.

The money is split between the bakers, the statewide council, neighborhood service units and troops.

"Every penny after paying the bakers -- all net revenue -- stays in Alaska with the Girl Scout Council and the troops," said Carly Horton Stuart, communications director for Girl Scouts of Alaska.

Cookie bakers receive $1.09 per box sold. The rest of the money is split between troops (55 to 60 cents per box), the service units (5 cents per box), and the statewide council ($3.31 to $3.36 per box).

Through cookie sales, Becka Lopez's daughter has earned enough money to take trips to faraway places through the Girl Scout Destinations program.

Staked out in the Sears parking lot in Wasilla, at the corner of the Parks Highway and the Seward Meridian Parkway, troop 987 runs a well-oiled drive-thru operation during the sales season.


There, Lopez's daughter and other troop members spent the month keeping their table stocked -- organized by colored rows into a eye-catching rainbow block -- waving to traffic, smiling a lot and tending to the steady stream of customers who pulled up.

After school on weekdays, all day Saturday, after church Sunday, week after week, for 31 days -- rain, snow or shine, with temperatures ranging from 26 to 51 degrees and often battling wind -- they ran their business.

"Girl Scout Cookie season is about more than selling a box of cookies. It's about giving the girls business skills," said Lopez, troop 987's leader.

Over time, Lopez and her troop have learned what does and doesn't work. Snow days can cover up road signs and posters, hiding the prompts that encourage drivers to stop by. The girls must remember to bring their cookies out of the weather so the boxes don't get ruined (an important chore, since troop leaders have to pay for any boxes that don't sell). Higher sales occur on days when the troops have good attitudes and lots of energy, Lopez said.

They also learn how to budget, manage time and plan for expenses. For example, Lopez's troop pays for the propane that runs a small heater. The heater warms their home base, a trailer they use for storage and shelter from the weather.

"The Girl Scout Cookie Program is the largest girl's financial literacy program in the world" and "teaches girls the five skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, business ethics," Horton Stuart said. "Those are skills that girls develop through the selling of cookies, and qualities that will make them be successful adults."

More than 1,910 girls participated in Alaska's cookie sale this year, which averaged 196 boxes sold per girl. Eagle River was the top-selling service unit, with sales of more than 43,500 boxes.

The cookie stand is familiar territory for Olympic skier and professional athlete Holly Brooks. She spent the mid-1990s as a Girl Scout selling cookies in downtown Seattle.

"There were a couple of years in a row when I sold 1,000 boxes because I had to earn my way to camp myself," said Brooks, explaining that her parents encouraged her try original sales tactics. "They would take me to downtown Seattle during rush hour and I would be posted out at some of the biggest intersections. Or they would take me the bus transit station."

Swimming pools. Office high rises. A mysterious patroness named Julia who lived in a mansion with statues of lions and who reliably bought 200 boxes each year. Every sale mattered. Learning how to place an annual call and make a pitch to Julia was nerve-wracking, but worth it. Brooks wrote down what to say. Rehearsed it. Gathered her nerves. Then dialed.

"Every year I would just hold my breath until that happened. It would take me several days to make that phone call. I had horse camp riding on that phone call," Brooks said.

Years later, the same process has helped her land sponsorships.

"When I was young I had to ask people if they wanted to buy Girl Scout Cookies. Now, over the last five or six years, I've had to gather support to help fund my career as a professional athlete," Brooks said.

Other skills that paid off then and still do now? Sending thank-you notes. Networking. Learning how to communicate with people. Not getting discouraged. All are "real skills," Brooks said.

As a Girl Scout selling cookies, you'll get many "no's" and see people either avoid your gaze or walk in another door to avoid you, Brooks said. But within these obstacles is a valuable lesson.

"It's not the end of the world if it doesn't work out. If you ask, the worst thing that can happen is that people will say 'no.' But if you ask, sometimes they may say 'yes.' " Brooks said.

Girl Scouts earn cookie credits and can use the money to pay for camps or trips near and far. The council uses its money to improve camp properties, train volunteers and offer financial assistance to any girl who wants to attend a Girl Scout program or camp.


"Any girl who shows need is eligible," Horton Stuart said. "We say no to no girl."

Jill Burke is a longtime Alaska journalist writing from the center of a busy family life. Her father swore by "Burke's Law No. 1 -- never take no for an answer." Meaning, don't give up in the face of adversity. The lesson stuck. A child in her home attended Girl Scout Camp with financial assistance in 2015 and hopes to again in 2016. The Girl Scouts provide financial assistance to any girl who needs it. Share your ideas with her at jill@alaskadispatch.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Jill Burke

Jill Burke is a former writer and columnist for Alaska Dispatch News.