Every year, Canadian Girl Guides sell boxes of packaged cookies to raise money for their group activities, which often involve nature, camping and other inspiring outings designed to help empower girls to be smart, active citizens who care for their communities.
Every year, Canadians are approached by girls and their parents selling these cookies, either on their doorsteps or in front of stores that have let them pitch their charitable sugary treats to customers as they come and go.
And every year, the Canadian parents of Girl Guides (and Sparks and Brownies, of course) are tasked with selling cases of these cookies. I now know this firsthand, as I am one of these parents.
In Canada, there are two cookie campaigns every year — in the fall, there are the chocolate-coated mint cookies, and in the spring, there are the Oreo-style round sandwich cookies, which are sold in boxes with one row each of chocolate and vanilla. In selling these cookies, I have also learned of the fierce allegiance that some buyers have to one type or the other. The mint-heads are served in the fall, while the icing-filled diehards have to wait their turn for the spring cookie season. Until I had a few dozen boxes to sell, I had no idea this was a thing.
While the fall season sales were solid, I was cheerfully waiting for the spring season to begin. I had a few pre-orders lined up, and I was eager to get out there with my kiddo to see if we could drum up some sales.
The cookies arrived in mid-March, and I was ready to hit the ground running. Three cases, I had. No sweat, I thought.
Which was when Canada shut itself down and sheltered in place.
The way the cookie crumbles
Something about sending children and their parents to interact with random strangers, accepting crinkled bills in exchange for boxes of cookies, didn’t quite fit the new normal we all found ourselves in at the end of March. There was no feasible way for kids to hand-sell cookies during a worldwide health emergency where every surface was suspect, where every trip outside the home was to be made quickly and efficiently, stopping only for essentials to stock the pantry and fill the fridge.
While the Guides themselves were forbidden from selling cookies for obvious reasons, I managed to supply a few colleagues with a box or two before we were all told to head for the safety of our improvised home offices. I offered to accept e-transfers in a bid to go contactless, but it was too late.
Ever resourceful, the Guides took stock of the situation, rounded up any remaining unopened cases, and made a plan.
The icing in the middle
I noticed the wall of boxes while stocking up on printer paper at London Drugs about a month into working from home. (Maybe? Does anyone really have a sense of the passage of time these days?) There, by the till, were hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of Girl Guide cookies, arranged like bricks into a kind of wall between cashiers. And when I checked the London Drugs website for a price on something, they were there, too. Add a box to your order, they suggested — only five bucks. What a wonderful idea.
When I went to pick up some groceries, there they were again at my local Safeway. An entire shelving end-unit, normally host to canned kidney beans or jars of tomato sauce, had been devoted to cookies that had had their usual merit-badge-bedecked distribution network abruptly shut down. Were it not for the half-dozen boxes still sitting in a crate in my hallway, I would have bought a few boxes and physically-distant high-fived the cashier for working in a store that cared enough about their community to take on the task of selling dozens and dozens of cases of Girl Guide cookies when the Guides themselves were unable to do so.
As a parent, I love that Girl Guides help to foster a sense of community in the girls who participate in the organization, to model sharing and being a friend in a time where so many messages aimed kids are focused on acquiring things and competing to win instead of playing for the sake of enjoyment. So to see that same community supporting those girls by helping to sell a warehouse full of cookies brought home the message of community in a strangely roundabout way. While it’s true to say that these businesses rely on us and we rely on them, it’s just as important to remember that in order for society to work, we need to rely on each other.
There’s nothing like a crisis to show you who your friends are.
And sometimes it takes a pandemic to learn what it means to help others when they need it most — one box of icing-filled cookies at a time.