Pushing Girl Scouts to push doorbells

She's not knocking on doors. She's not wearing a green sash.

She's not even a Girl Scout. She's a mother to a first-year Girl Scout, sending out an e-mail blast: "Only available once a year, so be sure to order enough for the whole year!"

It didn't go over well.

It even sparked outrage. Some parents said she was violating Girl Scout rules. Some suggested her daughter could lose her eligibility to wear the Scout badge.

One woman responded in a mass e-mail: "I was a Girl Scout all my life, earning both my gold and silver awards. My mother would never let me just leave my cookie order sheet in her office ... A Girl Scout must sell cookies herself (not her parents)."

Smith said she was just trying to help her daughter reach a sales goal of 175 boxes. She never imagined her sales pitch would elicit such a strong reaction. She quickly retracted the e-mail. But she's not backing down from lending her daughter a hand either.

"I understand some parents feel strongly about this and I do agree girls do need to put forth the effort in selling the cookies, but parental support is also important."

Beginning this year, it's no longer against the Scout code to sell the cookies via e-mail, even if sent by a parent, but many traditionalists are trying to boost the number of face-to-face sales pitches, especially as door-to-door sales fall out of favor. A combination of safety concerns, time crunches and the proliferation of neighborhoods that are gated or otherwise ban door-to-door sales has taken a big bite out of this tradition. In fact, the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta acknowledges door-to-door sales no longer represent the majority of the cookie sales.

Parents are opting for alternative ways to peddle the sweets — from toting cookie sheets to the office to updating their Facebook accounts and sending out blanket e-mails.

But critics believe parents need to back off and let their daughters take more responsibility, and of course, learn valuable life skills from selling cookies.

This season, in the Atlanta region alone (which includes 34 counties), an estimated 4 million boxes of cookies are expected to be sold.

In an effort to boost door-to-door sales, the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta is offering new incentives including a specific "Walkabout" patch (featuring a girl taking strides), according to Sarnethia Wilkinson, product sales marketing representative for Girl Scouts Greater Atlanta cookie program. The patch will be given to girls who participate in chaperoned door-to-door sales in early March (or troops can select a different date to do a Walkabout).

It used to be against the rules to send e-mail cookie pitches, but the Girl Scouts reconsidered because technology and e-mail are such a part of the girls' lives, according to Wilkinson. Meanwhile, Internet sales, such as setting up a payment account or creating a Web site to sell the cookies, is strictly prohibited.

She also gives the Girl Scout blessing to selling cookies in the office, but said there should always be "girl involvement."

For example, Scouts should follow up by phone with every customer who filled out the cookie sheet "to at least confirm the order but also to try and sell more cookies."

Wilkinson said many cookie customers still expect a visit from a uniformed Scout.

"We get hundreds of calls every year from people who say, 'A Girl Scout never came to my house.' They have this nostalgia about the cookies."

Thin Mints and coconut-rich Samoas and the rest of cookies still enjoy wild popularity. It was some 80 years ago when Girl Scouts themselves (with the help of their mothers) started this ritual by baking sugar cookies in their homes, and then selling them in wax paper bags carried door-to-door.

In the Atlanta region alone, an estimated 30,000 Girl Scouts are selling cookies this season.

"We are kind of old fashioned," said Beth Hawks of Atlanta, mom to 11-year-old Charlotte, a Girl Scout for three years. "We go door to door. I stand away from the door and let her interact ... Some people test her math skills. Some will coach her through sales."

Charlotte said she revels in canvassing her neighborhood selling cookies. With a goal of selling 200 boxes, she and her mom go out once or twice a week to sell cookies.

"I like getting out and talking to my neighbors. There's a family across the street with a little boy and they always buy Thin Mints and Tagalongs," said Charlotte, who wears her mother's Girl Scout sash.

Her troop leader, Gretchen Pawloski, said she wants the Scouts to be primarily responsible for selling cookies, but she sees no problem with the parents pitching in, too.

"We certainly don't discourage parents from selling cookies. It's a fund-raiser," she said.

Still, she sees the cookie selling as a golden opportunity for young girls to learn life skills, such as goal setting and teamwork and entrepreneurial skills.

She's seen her own daughter Anna, now 11, really learn from the process.

"During her first year if someone told her they were on a diet, she would turn around and scurry off the doorstep. But now, she talks about how they can donate the cookies," she said.

Smith said her daughter, 6-year-old Kierstyn, has already sold close to 100 boxes of cookies. Smith and her daughter, who is a "Daisy" — the youngest of the Girl Scouts — are trying to develop creative ways to sell the cookies.

But she's not so sure about going door-to-door. Her neighborhood has a strict no-soliciting rules, and while some residents may welcome a cookie sales pitch, she said some may be averse to it.

"This is her first year and she's really into it," she said. "I want to keep up that enthusiasm. Today, she was at school and she was telling her teachers about the cookies."

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