The news that there will be a new Girl Scout cookie this year spread with the start of the school year, but it had us wondering, what does a Girl Scout or Boy Scout year look like during a pandemic?
Will there be cookie and popcorn booths at local stores? Will troops, dens and packs meet in person or virtually? Will anyone be gathering at their respective camps this school year?
But first, let’s talk about this cookie. Girl Scouts has two cookie bakers, and each region picks which baker they will use. That’s why some people call the peanut butter cookies covered in chocolate Tagalongs while others call them Peanut Butter Patties. Same with Samoas vs. Caramel deLites and Shortbreads vs. Trefoils.
This year, Girl Scouts of Central Texas is getting the new Toast-Yay! cookies, which are sandwich cookies designed to look and taste like french toast. The Toast-Yay! cookies replace the Thanks-a-Lot shortbread cookies covered in chocolates. All the other cookies will be the same as previous years: Thin Mints, Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Shortbread, Lemonades, S’Mores and the gluten-free Caramel Chocolate Chip.
Cookie season doesn’t begin until mid-January. Girl Scouts of Central Texas is doing a lot of planning around what cookie season will look like, as well as all of its programming.
"It’s hard to know what the health trend will be," says Kursten Mitchell, chief marketing and communications officer of Girl Scouts of Central Texas.
"Even if we’re interested in doing booth sales, we don’t know if the girls will be interested in doing booth sales," she says.
Businesses also aren’t as comfortable committing to booths right now, she says.
"We’re definitely looking at alternative methods," Mitchell says.
Girl Scouts of Central Texas will be emphasizing online sales, neighborhoodwide sales, and perhaps drive-thru booths with contactless payment.
"We believe we’re going to need an alternative to booths," she says. "It will be hard for girls and harder for troops to meet those program goals."
Girl Scouts of Central Texas uses cookie sale proceeds to fund its programs, including staff, and support its two camps. Girl Scouts and their troops use the sales to pay for everything from badges to travel, including trips locally, throughout the U.S. and overseas.
Girl Scouts of Central Texas also has a nut and candy sale called Fall Products that will begin in October. That has always been a sale to friends and family and will continue much like it has, but with more of an emphasis on online sales.
Boy Scouts of America, Capitol Area Council is gearing up for its popcorn sale, which has included booths at local stores.
Boy Scouts have traditionally gone door to door to make sales, and you will start seeing them in your neighborhood, but Charles Mead, director of marketing and public relations for Boy Scouts of America, Capitol Area Council, believes the booths and online sales at getpopcorn.org will be even more important.
The booth sales will have new rules such as not allowing scouts from different families to sell together at the same booth, having a cleaning protocol to wipe down the booth and everything for the next scout, wearing gloves and encouraging the use of credit cards to limit the contact.
"A lot of stores aren’t quite sure what they want to do yet," Mead says about how many booths they will have. "We take it one step at a time."
The popcorn sales are an important part of the council’s budget as well as the packs’ and troops’ budgets. The council is not able to do its traditional two other major fundraisers this year because of the pandemic.
"Things like the popcorn sale become even more important," Mead says.
Since mid-March, both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts councils have been offering virtual badge workshops and other activities to scouts.
Recognizing that parents are now having to work from home and help with school from home, Boy Scouts has program adventure boxes that contain all the materials a Cub Scout needs to earn a rank for the grade level as well as support materials and links to videos. The local council can send them to interested scouts.
"We want to make it easier for our leaders to help keep kids advancing," Mead says.
Girl Scouts unveiled 24 new badges in July including series on science, technology, math and engineering career exploration; entrepreneurship; civics; and automotive engineering.
Some local troops and dens have started meeting in person using social distancing guidelines and following local ordinances, state guidelines for sports and youth clubs, and CDC recommendations such as no more than 10 people gathered together.
They are being given guidelines such as enforcing social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands "so that everybody is on the same page of what needs to happen and what it takes in order to do things safely," Mead says.
"Some units for some time will continue to meet and try to conduct meetings virtually," he says.
For Girl Scouts, Mitchell says, she noticed some of the groups in more rural environments have begun meeting again in person, but especially in the Austin area, "quite a few are not comfortable with that."
Larger troops also tend to stay virtual to avoid having to split into a couple of groups to allow for, at most, eight kids and two adults in each group.
Troops also try to be inclusive of everyone in the group; troops with adults or kids with high risks for hospitalization for COVID-19 such as asthma, diabetes or another autoimmune disease are tending to stay virtual.
Both councils are planning to open some council activities at camps or education centers to limited groups in October. For Boy Scouts, that might mean adapting its venturing program to include things that can be easily sanitized between groups. For Girl Scouts it will mean doing some small group outdoor activities but keeping its annual Samsung STEM Galaxy Challenge to a virtual event.
Late August and early September are prime recruiting time for both groups, which both begin in kindergarten and continue through high school.
They are using tools like PTA and school newsletters to do recruitment rather than the traditional tables at back-to-school nights.
Both are also offering virtual programs for potential scouts to try out. Girl Scouts of Central Texas is offering a free Robot Building Party at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 12, 6 p.m. Sept. 15, 10:30 a.m. Sept. 26, 6 p.m Sept. 29, and 10:30 a.m. Oct. 10 for kindergartners through third graders; and a free bilingual Animal Dance Party at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 19, 6 p.m. Sept. 22, 10:30 a.m. Oct. 3 and 6 p.m. Oct. 6 for kindergartners through third graders. You can sign up at gsctx.org/events and sign up for Girl Scouts at gsctx.org/join.
To sign up for Boy Scouts, go to bsacac.org/cub-scouts. To try it out, Boy Scouts of America is holding a Family Fun Fest, complete with a Pinewood Derby at Texas Motor Speedway in which you can mail in your pinewood car to race in the derby. It will all be done on Facebook Live beginning at 10 a.m. Sept. 12, but you can find out more at scouting.org/familyfunfest.
Scouting is really important, especially in this pandemic, Mead says. "It's real important right now that kids have something to plug themselves into to relieve some of the anxiety, the fears, the boredom that they are left with."