As a young girl I spent several years in Girl Scout Troop #247. (Don’t ask me how I can remember that number when I forget so many other details of my life; it’s funny what items stick in a person’s mind…) My troop was a very active one (thanks Mom), and we did our fair share of badge-earning activities: camping, cooking, sewing, volunteering, cleaning, flower arranging (hey, it was the early 1980s – these were ‘critical’ skills every girl needed to learn, apparently…) – my sash was crowded with small circular patches. Yet we had to finance all of these fun and interesting activities somehow; as you might guess, our funding source came from selling cookies.
Each winter my dad dutifully took the colorful order form to his office – where his colleagues were genuinely happy (incredibly happy) to commit to purchasing boxes and boxes of cookies. Likewise, my mom brought the form to her numerous commitments: church, choral practice, bowling league, hair salon… And I carried the form door-to-door through our neighborhood, ringing doorbells, smiling nervously when the homeowner appeared, and asking the adult if he or she would like to buy some Girl Scout cookies. Many said no, but a blessed few said yes – and I felt relief that I wouldn’t return home empty-handed.
Despite these fund raising efforts, participating in Girl Scouts still came with a financial price. Uniforms had to be purchased, monthly dues paid… Looking back, I now recognize that being a “Brownie” (a young Girl Scout) or a “Cadet” (an older elementary-school Girl Scout) was a privilege only kids who lived in middle-income families could afford. While this adult knowledge hasn’t turned me off to the merits of the Scout organization(s), it does make me a bit sad.
Three winters ago, as I was walking in one of the city’s many skyways, I saw a small group of teenage girls standing behind a folding table, selling cookies. Thinking that it was quite unusual to see Girl Scouts older than 10- or 11-years-old, I slowed my pace as I approached the adolescents. Reading the sign next to a few bags (not boxes) of cookies, I learned that these girls were selling sweets for an organization called “The Cookie Cart”. Hm. Thinking that this might be some type of lemonade stand attempt, I kept my gaze forward and my feet moving as I walked past the kids. When I got back to the office, I sat down at my desk and quickly Googled “Cookie Cart” – and frowned at the missed opportunity. Now disappointed that I didn’t stop and buy a bag of sweets to support such a positive organization, I silently promised myself that the next time I saw The Cookie Cart, I would make a purchase.
Despite keeping my eyes open every time I travel in the city skyways, I have not encountered Cookie Cart kids since that day three years ago. At this point, I realize that if I am going to have an opportunity to make amends for the cold shoulder I gave those kids several winters back, I am likely going to have to create the opportunity myself.
Fortunately, The Cookie Cart has a retail location in addition to the mobile stands they pop up throughout the city. Now all I needed was a “reason” to make a special trip to the Cookie Cart bakery (apart from simply checking this item off of my 101 list). This year for Veterans Day my work team made plans to honor two of our peers who are former military men – and I was put in charge of morning coffee and treats. Voila – the perfect impetus to benefit two good causes with one action. Cookie Cart, here I come…
I visited the Cookie Cart’s website and located their hours. They open at 9 am on Sundays, which worked out perfectly for me. I arrived at the shop around 9:15 am…
…walked through their front door…
A completely empty bakery case. Hmm, that’s odd. But then I thought, “Well, maybe they’re just running a little behind…” I approached the counter, and cleared my throat to get the attention of the teenage girl sitting at an office desk with her back to me. She turned around, a little startled. “Hi,” she said warmly, but also a bit confused. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, I’d like to get some cookies, please,” I answered, with a slightly uncertain tone. This scene felt odd…
“Oh, well, we’re actually not even open yet,” the girl replied. “We open at 10 am. But I can help you,” she offered, her tone genuinely kind.
My brow immediately furrowed. “Um, okay, but your website says that you’re open at 9 am on Sundays…” I stated, with notes of confusion in my voice (and on my face).
“Yeah…” the teen tittered, clearly embarrassed. I could sense there was a behind-the-scenes story at play, but the teen offered no additional explanation. “But I can help you right now. What can I get you?” she asked again.
I pointed to the empty display case. “But do you even have any cookies made?” I asked her, my voice betraying the uncertainty I felt about this endeavor thus far. How could she help me if no cookies were available?
“Oh yes,” she reassured me, “we have everything ready to go.” She nodded towards the bakery area adjacent to the retail space.
“What kind of cookies would you like?” the girl tried one more time.
I quickly scanned the menu. At least ten different flavors were listed. I immediately decided to keep things as simple as possible. “I’ll take a variety pack. A dozen cookies, and you chose the specifics. Okay?”
The teen nodded in agreement, smiled, and headed to the back to load a small box with cookies. A few minutes later she returned, and gently placed the cookie box on the counter.
She stated, “That will be $8, please.” I pulled my wallet from my purse. Seeing me reach for a credit card, the young woman said, “Oh,” then paused. “I’ll need to get the cash register from the back,” she continued, then turned and began to walk away.
“Hang on!” I called out after her. She stopped. “You know what? I’ll just give you exact change. Eight dollars, you said?” I pulled out a 5 and three 1s from my wallet, and offered the bills to her. “How about we just keep this easy, eh?” I smiled.
The teen smiled back at me, and gratefully accepted the cash. “Thanks!” she responded. “Have a great day!” she offered, as I began to make my way to the door.
“You too,” I replied. And I meant it.
At my office the following morning, the cookies were a big hit.
My peers gleefully dunked ginger cookies into coffee and chomped through chocolate chips, and the veterans we were honoring were genuinely touched by our thoughtfulness. In the end, the cookies benefited multiple people – and that’s the best result I could have hoped for.
Post Script: Cookies, coffee, and cards are one very small way to honor the sacrifices former military men and women have made for the benefit of the rest of us. To provide a bit of support to help both vets and active troops (as well as their families and loved ones), consider engaging with one of the following resources:
- Operation Helmet: For $35, you can provide a service member helmet pads to help protect against traumatic brain injury.
- Pets for Vets: Pairs shelter dogs with veterans in an effort to ease the emotional wounds of war.
- Operation Shower: Celebrate an expectant mom whose husband is deployed or injured.
- Books for Soldiers: Look up specific requests for reading materials, DVDs, games, and relief supplies from members in all branches of the military, then pack the items with a letter of thanks and ship them off.
- VA Volunteers: Join the Veteran’s Administration’s Volunteer Transportation Network and drive veterans to and from their appointments for services.
- Operation Give: Donate toys and school/art supplies that our troops can then distribute to local children in the areas where they are serving.
- 100 Entrepreneurs Project: Sign up to teach a class or be a mentor to wounded veterans interested in exploring business opportunities after they leave the hospital.
- A Million Thanks: Send a holiday card to service members and veterans.
- United Service Organizations (USO): A nonprofit organization that provides programs, services and live entertainment to United States troops and their families. The USO is always in need of both financial contributions and volunteer hours with a wide variety of tasks and projects.
- Operation Gratitude: Send a care package filled with snacks, entertainment items and a personal letter of appreciation to U.S. service members deployed in hostile regions, their children left behind, veterans, first responders, wounded warriors or their care givers.
- A personal connection: Know a vet, or a family with a deployed military member? Do something special for him/her/them. Never underestimate the impact a card, meal, offer to babysit, or a few hours of yard work can make in their lives.