February 25, 2013 9:41:35 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Sunday's blue skies and warm temperatures inspired many to spend the day outdoors, including local Girl Scouts, who were out in full force to kick off the first weekend of the 2013 cookie sale season.
At Walmart, members of Troop 20253 turned on the charm, shyly smiling at passersby and calling out in sing-song unison: "Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?"
It is a tradition almost as old as Girl Scouting itself, which was founded by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912 in Savannah, Ga. Five years later, a Muskogee, Okla. troop baked batches of simple sugar cookies to sell, and a worldwide enterprise -- raking in $785 million last year -- was born.
Of course, there have been some changes over the past century. There are 11 cookie varieties this year, though not all flavors are offered in all areas. Inflation has set in as well. In the 1920s and 1930s, cookies were sold for 25 cents to 35 cents per dozen. Now, a box will set you back $3.50, and if you're like most people, you'll be leaving with more than one. (Although during World War II, customers were limited to two boxes, and Scouts also sold calendars due to shortages of key cookie ingredients.)
So what's the most popular cookie? Thin Mints represent a quarter of all sales nationwide, and not surprisingly, the chocolate-covered, minty treats are big hits here as well, especially at Columbus Air Force Base, where they are such a favorite that Troop 20253, which calls the base home, can't keep them in stock.
But citywide, the hands-down favorite is the nation's second most popular -- the Samoas, which are vanilla cookies coated in caramel, sprinkled with toasted coconut and striped with chocolate.
Troop members Natalie Runyon and Kristen Jones said sales had been good Sunday, but first-year Girl Scout Emily Vinup thought the 150-some-odd boxes they had sold were just "average" for their third day on the sales circuit.
But don't underestimate these girls' ability to turn a profit. They have set a goal of selling 7,250 boxes this year, and last year, the homeschooled troop sold a staggering 11,500 boxes.
Runyon was responsible for selling 2,000 of those boxes, but she admitted Sunday that it was hard in the beginning to talk to strangers.
"I was kind of shy at first, but doing it every day for a long time got me out of my comfort zone," she said.
The hardest part of selling is not knowing how people will react, Jones said. For every shopper who stopped to get their sugar fix, there were just as many who hurried past, oblivious to the girls and their burgeoning business.
First-year troop leader Cheryl Runyon, Natalie's mother, said she decided to become involved when former troop leader Nancy Seguin, wife of former CAFB Col. Barre Seguin, was relocated. Because Natalie loves Scouting so much, her mother wanted to be part of it, too.
Over the years, she has seen her daughter learn to talk to adults with confidence as well as interact with her peers as both a team player and a leader. They have no choice but to interact, Cheryl Runyon said. The result is often lifelong friendships that transcend distance and years.
Scouts also learn to give back to their communities. Last year, the Troop 20253 donated 288 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in Columbus and Palmer Home for Children. This year, they're donating cookies to Helping Hands and Father's Child Ministries.
Girl Scout cookies will be on sale through March 17, and though the members of Troop 20253 hope to meet this year's goal, don't expect to be pressured into buying. These girls take a soft-sell approach to dealing with customers.
"If they reject you, you just say 'Thank you' anyway," Vinup said.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.