Monday, February 26, 2007

let's be clear: your discarded do-si-dos are not doing the underclass any favors

In response to my last post, one commenter wrote:
Many (all?) Girl Scout councils have a cookie share program that allows you to buy boxes from girls, but have the cookies sent to a charity. The troop chooses the food pantry, shelter, or wherever they want to send the cookies. The girls can still go to horse camp.
First, I don't want to seem anti-Girl Scout. I have friends with various kinds of close connections to Girl Scouts, I think they are a great organization, especially since they do not promote homophobia like their othergender counterpart, etc..

However, and no offense to the commenter: It's unclear even if cookies were entirely free that one is doing the world a favor by stocking any food pantry or shelter with additional cookies. Americans below the poverty line, as a group, evince some of the poorest dietary decision-making anywhere on the planet, due to a complex variety of reasons but certainly not helped by boxes of free cookies. Regardless, there is no such thing as a free cookie, and the same money used to buy cookies could be used to: (1) donate the profit from the cookies to the Girl Scouts, (2) donate the wholesale cost of the cookie to the organization that would get the cookies as a donation and (3) give the savings from deducting the donation from one's taxes to whatever organization one prefers.

Can you really not make a charitable donation to the Girl Scouts and just have that count toward whatever cookie quota a given scout has toward sending her troop to horse camp? Does everything have to be translated into the currency of cookies for it to be part of the sales drive?

It says something about my social networks that I have no recollection of ever personally having been directly asked by a Girl Scout to buy cookies. I don't even think I've ever been directly asked by a parent of a Girl Scout either, although I've been in places where people have put up a signup sheet on a bulletin board (sometimes with an explicit note like, "I'll participate in your kid's fundraising drive if you participate in mine.") When I do, however, my response will not be to fork over cash to fight the War On Poverty with Thin Mints.


Anonymous said...

I think poor and homeless people could have a "treat", a sugary cookie or two. It's discipline. Alone, there's nothing wrong with these cookies, like there's nothing wrong with a bottle of wine or an occasional cigarette.

It's when you are so undisciplined you can't stop, and eat a box at a sitting. It's not the cookies, it's us. You don't need a computer program to help you diet, but some find it helps. Most don't need to give away all their cookies, just freeze and eat them throughout the year in moderation.

It's better to master this early than banning or eliminating the "bad", since you will always face food temptations.

jeremy said...

Being a social scientist, I tend to believe that aspects of people's situations are quite important for how they will behave.

I think if one believes the poor of the United States don't already typically have ready access to a sugary cookie or two without one's donation, one is under a quite misguided view of poverty and obesity in the US.

jennifer said...

If you donate boxes of cookies to food pantries, it is likely that any given family will receive only one box. What is one box of cookies in months, or an entire year? It is a treat, and not likely to have an overall impact on their health or weight.

When a person goes to a food bank, they are given minimal choices in what foods they can select. Often, a bag is prepared for them, with the staples needed for number of people in the family, and then they are allowed to pick a number of items from an "extras" table. The food bank I have helped with also distributes some baby formula, diapers, and in lucky months, a small amount of meat. Rarely fresh veggies. Most of the food is non-perishable, which means a lot of canned soups, canned veggies, pre-packaged foods, potatoes, noodles and rice - lots of foods high in fat, carbs, and sodium. I think the organic farm in town donates some goods in season, which is good, but that is only a few months of the year.

You and I may walk out of the grocery store with several bags of food a week. These families walk out with maybe three-four bags, meant to last their family a month.

Do they have access to sugary cookies? Maybe, but not on the level that you or I do. Do I have a misguided view of poverty and obesity? I don't know. But I believe that we are all human, and should be treated with respect. There are a lot of things wrong in this country, and to do otherwise is to deny that people have the right and ability to change for the better.

jeremy said...

Just to be clear: I am all for food banks. I think it would be great if the wholesale value of the cookies went straight to a food bank, which could then decide if they thought high-markup cookies were the best use of the money. My issue is that if a person wants to donate to the girl scouts, which is what you are saying you want to do when you say you don't want the cookies, it makes way more sense to distribute money directly rather than have cookie manufacturers take their cutters to it.

Anonymous said...

While I was writing this comment, jennifer and jeremy posted, but I am going ahead with this anyway. Since jennifer touched on most of what I was trying to say better than I was actually saying it, I will add this: in addition to being cookies, Girl Scout Cookies are Girl Scout Cookies. Sometimes people want comfort food. I'd rather eat a Tag-a-long than an Oreo even though Oreos are freaking awesome. Getting a box of Thin Mints is probably more exciting than getting some E.L.Fudge chocolate covered whatevers.

The cookies can be donated anywhere. Many are actually sent to "the troops" by the Girl Scout troop. Some are sent to battered women's shelters. The girls decide. I suspect that the number of boxes of Girl Scout cookies sitting in food banks is pretty small.

I reccently heard a talk by a woman from a food bank (which then distributes to food pantries). She said that chocolate isn't the worst thing to have in a food pantry. She said that tampons and such are better, but Girl Scouts don't sell those.

Anyway, if you are going to donate to a troop, which helps the individual girls, consider that cookie money also benefits the council. So, if your angle is to get money straight into the hands of girls or Girl Scouts, donate to both.

If you want to find out how much money from each box goes to the troop and how much goes to the council, you might want to email someone at Patriots' Trail Council. Then write a check and hop on your eliptical machine. Or eat the cookies in moderation and donate your money to whatever charity you choose. Moreover, you should go to your local food pantry and ask how you can help people get fresh produce and donate that. Food pantries have a lot of things with long shelf lives, but might need stuff other than soup and canned foods from the back of your cupboard. That is a higher priority than helping girls go to horse camp.

nina said...

But the point is that Girl Scouts make as much money as they do because everyone loves their cookies. Sure, they're a good cause, but there are a million other competing causes -- we pick and choose where we can donate time and money, but in addition to our charitable instincts, those cookies are just so damn good and in your face present, that we give over and beyond, by indulging our sweet tooth. Anyway, that's the logic.
Personally, I was never so tempted by the cookies. I bought them because I'll buy one of anything that a kid'll bring to my doorstep. Now, if they sold chocolate covered raisins, I'd have a problem.

Anonymous said...

I think you started this whole thread just to work in your last line about "fighting the war on poverty with Thin Mints."

FWIW, I think any sales generated by parents at their workplace should only count fractionally, and Thin Mints and Samoas should only be available from girls going door-to-door. This shall be implemented when I am appointed Prime Minister by Queen Oprah.

TheInternetDog said...

Facts about Girl Scout Cookies:

1. The girl selling the cookie gets (on average) 11 cents for each box of cookies she sells.

2. The Girl Scouts of America gets (again, on average) about 50 cents for each box of cookies the little girl sells.

3. GSA does not return any of that money to local troops. It is used only to fund their nationwide bureaucracy.

4. It is expected that local troops will "trickle up" a considerable portion of their portion of cookie sales to GSA through purchases of GSA-branded merchandise.

When it comes to buying cookies, I have established the following rules for myself.

1. I only deal with the girls themselves.

2. Parents who try to get me to buy cookies are informed of rule #1.

3. Parents who bring the form in to work for their daughters and drop it off in the break room are informed of rule #1 and reported to HR for unwanted solicitation in the workplace.

4. When a girl scout asks if I would like to buy cookies I politely say "No thank you. But here is $1 for your troop."

I know that makes me sound like a hardass, but I don't care. Part of the point of the cookie sales is to teach girls social and workplace skills, and they don't get that when mommie or daddy does all the work for them. Additionally, rule #4 has the following benefits.

1. The local troop gets eleven times more than if I bought a box of cookies.

2. I save $2.50 by not buying cookies.

3. There are 2000 calories and 72 grams of fat that I don't consume and, consequently, end up having to work off on the treadmill.

Gwen said...

Apparently Jeremy and I are in a small minority, because I was discussing a similar issue with a friend recently and came to the same conclusion. It's like those campaigns where if you sent in a yogurt lid they'll contribute to breast cancer research. But the amount they'll donate is infinitesimally small. Plus you have the cost to mail them in, plus the cost of the yogurt. Why not just donate directly to the charity rather than going through the company? It's marketing dressed up as philanthropy.

I'm a member of a quilting group. We make quilts for the poor. I joined b/c it gives me something to do and I wanted to learn to quilt. I find it enjoyable to spend two hours a week making something where I can see a final product at the end.

But I am under no delusions that I'm doing some great service for the poor of the world. Yes, some people surely are in desperate need of quilts. It's possible one of our quilts might save someone from frostbite or hypothermia. Or even just make some kid feel special that someone made them a fun quilt. I dunno.

But a couple of weeks ago one woman brought up the idea of making stuffed animals for kids in the developing world. And everyone thought this was such a wonderful idea. And it's very sweet and all. But I just kept staring at the patterns for the stuffed elephants and horses and pigs and thinking that the amount it would cost for the material, the stuffing, the decorations, and the shipping to get a stuffed elephant to a kid in Bolivia could probably buy that kid a vaccination or some rice or flour or something a bit more useful. I did not have the heart to tell the women that, but I declined to take part.

There was a really good article in the last issue of Bitch magazine about celebrity and consumer philanthropy that argues it's more about making you feel good than about actually helping in any significant way. I've accepted this regarding my quilting and do it anyway, but I don't kid myself about the significance of my contribution to humanity.