MODESTO -- "Be prepared" is the Boy Scout motto, but the Girl Scouts put those words into action Monday with their Mega Drop distribution in Modesto to launch cookie sales season.
In the parking lot of Big Valley Grace Community Church on Tully Road, about 200 volunteers spent the day loading more than 320,000 boxes of Peanut Butter Patties, Thin Mints and more into troop leaders' pickups, vans, SUVs and other vehicles. The sweets were bound for Girl Scouts' door-to-door deliveries of pre-orders, plus cookie booths that will begin this weekend in front of stores throughout the area.
The distribution operation was running like clockwork late Monday morning. As Scout leaders arrived at one point, nine or 10 vehicles were lined up they stated their troop numbers. Volunteers pulled out sheets indicating how much of each cookie variety the troops had requested for pickup. The varieties Caramel deLites, Thanks-a-Lots, Lemonades, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, etc. all had their own stations, and a volunteer walked alongside each vehicle, checking off the cookie orders as they were loaded.
"You can tell it's the Girl Scouts," said Linda Farley, who joined the organization's Heart of Central California council in January as chief executive officer. Surveying the scene in the parking lot, she said, "We know what we're doing everyone's so prepared. I think it's really amazing."
Monday's distribution was for the southern part of the 18-county council, and most of the troops making the 250 scheduled pickups are from the Modesto and Stockton areas, Farley said.
Most cookie orders are too big to fit into one pickup, SUV or vanload, so she was expecting more like 500 vehicles to be filled before day's end.
This year's cookie drive comes with one new flavor Mango Crèmes and new packaging for all the varieties. Mango Crèmes are described as "vanilla and coconut cookies filled with a tangy mango-flavored crème enhanced with nutrients derived from fruits." They replace the Shout Outs variety.
The new labels on individual boxes emphasize the skills the cookie program helps girls develop, Farley said: goal setting, decision making, money management, social skills and business ethics. Boxes carry information on awards Scouts earn, such as the Cadette Finding Common Ground badge, the Junior Gardener badge, the Money Counts financial-literacy badge and the Gold Award, which is Girl Scouting's equivalent of Boy Scouting's Eagle rank.
"We want the packaging to really illustrate what Scouting does for girls," she said, noting that the cases of cookies also tout the benefits of Girl Scouting: "Girls EXPERIENCE Success," "Girls CONNECT with Diversity," "Girls TAKE ACTION to Solve Problems," and so on.
Cadette Scout Stephanie Beck, 13, can attest that her years of participating in the cookie program have built her confidence and opened doors to opportunities.
"I'm really shy," the Roosevelt Junior High eighth-grader said, but selling door-to-door and at cookie booths outside stores has helped her overcome that. Last year, she sold more than 1,000 boxes of cookies, an effort that included selling in her neighborhood and those of family members. She's also worked email and Facebook to make sales.
Cookie prices remain $4 a box this year, with a percentage from each sale going to the troop and a percentage going to the Heart of Central California council. Stephanie's troop typically is a high-selling one, said its adult leader, Audry Garza. The girls have been so successful, in fact, that seven of them visited Washington, D.C., for a week last summer a trip funded by three years' proceeds from cookie sales.
The cookie sales program couldn't be successful without the partnerships Girl Scouts enjoy with businesses including Raley's, Save Mart, Safeway, Wal-Mart, Brenden Theatres and others that welcome booths set up outside, Farley said.
"It's very gracious of the retailers to do this, because it means people are buying cookies from us instead of them, and we're very grateful," Farley said. "They want to support the program, and for that short time period each year, they're willing to give up some revenue."
And even as cookies that are clearly inspired by Thin Mints, Caramel deLites and other flavors pop up on store shelves year round, Farley thinks Girl Scout cookie season will remain an exciting, anticipated time for people.
"It comes around just once a year, and for just a short time," she said. "And there's something so special about purchasing cookies from a girl who's participating in Girl Scouts and in the cookie program.
It's so much more than just the flavor of the cookie."
Cookie booths open Friday and run through March 17. To find sales booths near you, use the cookie locator at www.girlscoutshcc.org or download the iPhone cookie locator app from iTunes.