MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota Girl Scout council's decision to sell some of its camps has so upset one Scout that she and others in her troop plan to sit out the big annual cookie sale that starts Saturday.
Kim Zaiman, who leads a troop of 12 girls in the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood, said Thursday her 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, will sit out the sale along with some other troop members. The idea also is catching on among other members of the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys council, Zaiman said, although she didn't know how many girls would end up refusing to sell Thin Mints, Samoas and similar treats. The situation was "changing by the hour," she said.
The girls were upset by the council's decision to get rid of four camps in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Many other councils have made similar, difficult decisions about selling camps in recent years, said Michelle Tompkins, national spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA. While that often raises strong emotions, Tompkins said she's not aware of similar protests elsewhere this year.
The sales are partly the result of a national decision a few years ago to consolidate 312 local councils into 112 amid a gradual decline in members and tight funding, Tompkins said. Several councils decided they didn't need or couldn't afford as many properties as they ended up owing.
The River Valleys council has already transferred one camp to another council and sold another. Camp Greenwood near Buffalo is still up for sale, as is most of Camp Rolling Ridges in Hudson, Wis. A few sections of the Wisconsin camp were sold last year. Kim Zaiman helped organize a group to protest the sales, but its members were rebuffed last Saturday at the council's contentious annual meeting.
That led to her daughter's protest. Zaiman said her troop is sitting on about 3,500 boxes of cookies, many of which they may have to turn back in for other troops to sell. At least three or four other members will join Elizabeth in refusing to sell, her mother said.
"This was very difficult for my daughter to decide," Zaiman said. "She loves selling cookies . but she felt so strongly about this."
Elizabeth Zaiman, who's in her fifth year in Girl Scouts, said she has sold more than 600 boxes in each of the past two years, and she decided to protest this time because she doesn't want the money to go to her council.
"They are selling some of my favorite camps," she said.
The protest was first reported by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
Barbara Boelk, spokeswoman for the River Valleys council, said the camp sales will help ensure the best experiences possible to the 45,000 girls the council serves in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. While the council isn't losing money, it's had to cut its budget and may lose some United Way funding this spring. The council still has six other camps, she said.
"We're sorry some people aren't happy about it," Boelk said. "But this really is in the best interest of our girls."
Zaiman said the process for selling properties has been much more open elsewhere. A threatened cookie strike in Michigan a couple years ago was canceled after a council there became more open to talking, she said.
Just last month, the financially shaky Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina decided to sell four properties, including one camp. The council's chief executive, Loretta Graham, said many people are sad but there have been no protests.
Cookie sales provide crucial income for Girl Scout troops. National sales totaled $714 million in 2010 – about 198 million boxes – and about $415 million went to local councils, Tompkins said. Cookies provided the Rivers Valley council with $9.3 million last year, about two-thirds of its budget.
"Any threat to the Girl Scout cookie program is a direct threat to girls," Tompkins said.
Taylor McCanna, 16, of St. Louis Park, a Girl Scout for nine years, said she's sad a camp she attended has closed but she believes the River Valleys council made the right decision so future generations enjoy the same opportunities she's had. She said she sells about 250 boxes of cookies a year and will be out selling again this month.
"Girl Scouts has given me a community through my entire life," McCanna said. "It has given me many tools, many of the life skills that I still use today. It has given me connections and confidence. . . . It has given me a leg up in school and all aspects of my life."