In mid-March, Girl Scouts of Alaska posted an update on its newly launched COVID-19 Info page, telling parents and troop leaders that it was putting a "pause"—its word, its quotation marks—on Girl Scout cookie booth sales, and gently encouraging everyone to postpone any in-person cookie sales that were planned before the end of the month.
Four days later, it took a harder stance, suspending all "physical selling and delivery" of cookies, so if any customers were waiting for the self-care that only five or six boxes of Samoas can deliver, they're out of luck until after the pandemic. "We understand that this will be a pain point for troops and families," the council wrote. "We will do our best to alleviate the hassle."
Part of that hassle came in the form of some 144,000 unsold, undelivered boxes of cookies that are currently stacked in Girl Scouts' parents' garages, living rooms, and home offices across the state. Leslie Ridle, the head of Girl Scouts of Alaska, told the Anchorage Daily News that the problem is bigger than that: Without a full cookie-selling season, the council would be short on a significant amount of money. It wouldn't be able to pay its 20 full-time workers, provide scholarships to the 3,500 girls who rely on the council's financial help, or cover the cost of running this year's camps (even virtual versions, should it come to that).
That's where First National Bank Alaska came in, and an undoubtedly overworked loan officer was able to collect enough information from Ridle to help the Council apply for a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program was established to help small businesses—those with fewer than 500 employees—survive the uncertainty of the pandemic, and Girl Scouts of Alaska meets the requirements due to its size and its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
The U.S. Small Business Administration says that loans received through the PPP will be fully forgiven if those monies are used for payroll costs (and if the workers whose paychecks are covered remain employed for at least eight weeks), interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.
Girl Scouts of Alaska received its loan on Monday. "Because of [the bank's] assistance, we will be able to continue to operate and provide programming and experiences to girls, and continue to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place," the council wrote on its Facebook page.
On top of that, local businesses have started buying Girl Scout cookies to donate to food pantries, front-line workers, and other essential employees. (The mayor of Kodiak gave 50 boxes to the Salvation Army, and the GCI cable company swooped more than 1,300 boxes for the Food Bank of Alaska.)
"[W]e’re Girl Scouts," Ridle wrote more than a month ago. "We are always prepared to make the best of a situation."
Speaking to VICE, Mike Lopes, Senior Director of Critical Media at Girl Scouts of the USA, emphasized that as far as the loan goes, "by no means is this at al unique to the Alaska council."
"As you may know, Girl Scouts is federated system... Each council, as its own 501 C3, is having to evaluate their own financial picture and make a determination," he said. "Many, many other councils have pursued SBA loans—this is why each council is a small business, consisting of far fewer than 500 employees, and this is why applying for a PPP loan is hardly unique to the Alaska council."
"Cookie is certainly an important factor in council funding, but it’s not the only one—Girl Scout shops have had to close, Girl Scout fundraising efforts have been stalled or otherwise impacted, etc. So again, each council is taking the actions necessary to support their own business."
He also added that each individual Girl Scout council maintains control over their local sales, and the proceeds from those sales stay local after paying bakers. "As always, GSUSA trusts our girls, volunteers, and councils to know their local communities best, and to know which local organizations can benefit most from the donation of cookies. That means councils may choose to donate to first responders, food banks, soup kitchens, senior centers, or other charitable organizations who need the comfort of Girl Scout Cookies at this difficult time."
Frankly, who doesn't need the comfort of a pile of Thin Mints right now?