How COVID-19 disrupted the flow of 3.7 million boxes of Girl Guide cookies

In an ordinary year, Alexa Kalapaca’s family would easily be able to unload the 64 cases of Girl Guide cookies that are now sitting in the dining room of their Toronto home.

But now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re finding out that worldwide disruptions are stretching all the way down to the beloved, decades-long tradition of kids going door-to-door to sell cookies.

“We see it every day when we’re in the dining room,” Kalapaca said, referring to the mound of cases containing hundreds of boxes of cookies.

“They’re five bucks a box if you want some,” she said with a laugh.

It’s a problem for Girl Guide groups across Canada right now, said Jill Zelmanovits, the organization’s CEO. About 3.7 million boxes of classic Girl Guide cookies (the chocolate and vanilla variety) were sent out from bakers to local groups this spring.

Almost immediately after the boxes were shipped, physical distancing measures were put in place to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, leaving droves of Girl Guides unable to sell and raise funds the way they normally would.

“Basically, COVID could not have hit at a worse time,” Zelmanovits said. “A lot of people have cookies in their living rooms.”

Selling cookies is one of the largest yearly fundraisers for Girl Guides, Zelmanovits said. Once bakers are reimbursed for their product, profits are then kept by local units to plan events and help keep registration costs down.

The cookies have been sold in Canada since 1927 and have traditionally funded activities like hiking and camping. In recent years, Girl Guides have expanded that scope to include international travel, advocacy, scholarship opportunities, art workshops, financial literacy, science events, mental-health awareness and more.

“We always sell out of our cookies in our campaign,” Zelmanovits said. “We’ve never had an interruption like this.”

But a bright light has emerged for the organization, she said, as retailers like Metro, Sobeys, Loblaws and London Drugs are now setting up to sell Girl Guide cookies in an effort to make sure fundraising can continue.

The practice started with a Canadian Tire franchise owner in Alberta, Zelmanovits said, and blossomed from there.

“There was a groundswell of other retailers who came on.”

Girl Guides of Canada’s CEO says businesses across the country are stepping up and selling cookies in stores in an effort to help with the problem. Girl Guides themselves are not selling in stores. (Submitted by Girl Guides of Canada)


Toronto’s Left Field Brewery is one of those, and is now selling Girl Guide cookies alongside home beer deliveries.

“I was a Brownie and Girl Guide myself, and come from a long family background of Guiding, so I was happy for me and my team to be able to help this great cause, which was started through my sister-in-law and niece’s Girl Guide unit,” said Mandie Murphy, the brewery’s co-founder, in an email to CBC News.

“We’ve sold through nearly all of their supply and have moved on to help another unit in the neighbourhood.”

A group in Collingwood, Ont. is even selling “virtual cookies” and then donating the actual treats to front-line workers during the pandemic, Zelmanovits said.

While this particular groundswell bodes well for this batch of cookies, things aren’t looking great for the mint chocolate batch, which was set to roll out in the fall.

“It is looking likely that we will have to cancel this campaign,” Zelmanovits said.


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