Last weekend, nearly three million boxes of Girl Scout Cookies arrived in Greater Los Angeles to be sold by roughly 40,000 scouts. Of those 40,000 girls, over 300 are Santa Monicans.

The Westside scouts, who are divided among 35 troops, sold over 60,000 boxes of cookies last year and, according to troop leader and Girl Scouts’ Santa Monica service unit manager, Lisette Gold, they are on target to meet that same benchmark this year.

Gold said that the money each troop raises through the Cookie Program is used differently, as they get to decide how it’s spent. Gold’s troop has used their funds for travel in the past, going snorkeling in Catalina and on kayaking trips. But Gold said the girls have to use their financial skills to make those trips a reality.

“The girls become very savvy about money and budgeting,” Gold said. “They have to find out how much the trip is going to cost. … They do their inventory, set goals. It is a business they are running to raise money. And there is no other possibility for girls as young as third graders or fourth graders to set and meet these goals.”

Gold said that because the girls are too young to have jobs, the Girl Scout Cookie Program is the only way for most girls to gain real financial skills. But Gold said the girls are achieving financial success in the same way they would if they were employed.

“We will have one afternoon where we sell $600 in cookies and I will tell the girls they earned more than they would in most minimum wage jobs or babysitting,” Gold said.

Gold said that the Cookie Program is also one of the very few opportunities for girls to learn leadership, speaking and business skills.

“It is an opportunity for girls to carry skills they will use into the future. It let’s them be entrepreneurs, “ Gold said. “I have seen girls that have been so shy they could not look you in the eye. And then they get behind a booth and say ‘Do you want to buy Girl Scout Cookies?’ And it’s hard to say that, and these girls just do it. And people will ask them about the program and then they just light up.”

Communications manager for Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles, Melanie Larsen, said a big reason the Cookie Program is so important to the organization is it develops the girls’ financial literacy.

“Studies have shown that girls are really interested in learning how to manage money, but only 12 percent of girls say they are confident in making financial decisions,” Larsen said. “We need to empower girls in making business and finance decisions.”

Larsen said there are 27 financial literacy and Girl Scout Cookie Program badges Girl Scouts can earn, including: Money Manager, Philanthropist, Cookie CEO, Business Owner, Savvy Shopper, Budgeting, Business Plan, Customer Loyalty, Financing My Future, Good Credit, On My Own, P & L, and more.

The Cookie Program also funds STE[A]M (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activities, camps and field trips for the girls; as well as Girl Scout-funded community service projects.

“I would say it’s a feel good treat buying Girl Scout Cookies,” Larsen said. “It’s helping girls gain really important life skills: goal setting, business ethics. You’re also providing support for girls leadership programs. You’re really empowering girls. And the Greater Los Angeles girls specifically. So when you buy Girl Scout Cookies, you’re really investing in your community and projects that improve the community.”

Girl Scouts use a direct sale model for the whole season, meaning girls have cookies in-hand from the start. Starting on Jan. 24, the girls grabbed their wagons, or “cookie mobiles,” and headed door-to-door to start selling to friends and family.

Booth sales in front of local storefronts will begin Feb. 5 and go through March 6. To find a cookie booth near you visit girlscoutcookies.org.

There are seven Girl Scout Cookies offered this year including Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, Do-si-Dos, Savannah Smiles and Rah-Rah Raisin. For the second year in a row, Girl Scouts in Greater Los Angeles is also offering the gluten-free Toffee-tastic cookie. Girl Scout Cookies are $5 a box, except for the gluten-free Toffee-tastic, which is $6.

jennifer@www.smdp.com