Guest Opinion: Girl Scouts learn about the joy of giving at the VA Hospital
This past Saturday, in the cold rain and gusty wind, four girls from my daughter's Girl Scout Troop set up shop in front of Peet's Coffee at the Town and Country shopping center. Their shared one-hour mission: to sell Thin Mints, Trefoil Shortbreads and other brightly colored boxes of Girl Scout cookies to anyone willing to stop and hear their pitch in the blasting storm.
As the scouts arranged their display, I quickly advised them that along with the less-than-ideal weather conditions, they would likely face another challenge: buyer fatigue.
Anyone who has ventured from home in Palo Alto recently has no doubt been approached by an eager Girl Scout (or three eager Girl Scouts) selling cookies in front of various markets and stores. And even if you've stayed indoors, it's also likely that the unrelenting sound of your doorbell has signaled the arrival of yet another Girl Scout loaded with product and anticipation.
And sure enough, on Saturday, as folks bustled by in rain gear, with steaming coffees, some paused long enough to say that they had already bought cookies, lots and lots of cookies.
That's when the girls quickly mentioned one other option: buying cookies as a donation, to give to the veterans at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. Back on Valentine's Day, our troop of fifth graders made their annual visit to the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at the Palo Alto VA Hospital. Since first grade, the girls have visited this unit, to share home-made cards and to sing and dance for the hospitalized vets. The first time they went, as Girl Scout Brownies, it turned out that Miss California was also visiting that day; at the time, I wondered if a group of 6- and 7-year-olds would really have much impact compared to a certified pageant winner.
I got my answer one year later, when the girls, now second graders, returned on Valentine's Day to sing the Beatle's classic "Love Me Do," and to dance to the rousing "Hairspray" song, "You Can't Stop the Beat." When we arrived for this second Valentine's visit, one veteran was by the front door in his wheelchair. "The happiest day I had here in the last year was the day the Brownies came," the veteran explained. "When I heard you were coming back, I decided to wait for you."
This year, on Valentine's Day, the girls — now in fifth grade — decided to take orders from the hospitalized vets. But instead of charging the veterans for the cookies, they made plans to ask for donations.
As a result, in these past few weeks, rain or shine, our troop has directly experienced the incredible generosity of so many people throughout our city. The congregation at All Saints' Episcopal Church chipped in to buy more than 50 boxes for the hospitalized veterans. One nice woman, in front of Piazza's grocery store, took the time to listen to the girls, and then told them, "You are real leaders, you are our future, and I just really admire you for what you are doing."
But our most unexpected moment of warmth and love came Saturday, in the rain and cold. One young man stopped to listen, and as the girls described their plans to deliver cookies to hospitalized vets, his face quietly shifted with emotion.
"My father is at that hospital now, on the fourth floor. Could I buy some cookies for him?" He handed over a $20 bill for five boxes of cookies. I asked what would be the best time for the girls to make the delivery, and if he knew how long his dad might be in the hospital.
"I think maybe a couple of weeks," he said quietly. "He has cancer."
"Is he in the hospice unit?" I asked.
Then, he shared his gratitude for the wonderful care that he said his father was receiving. As he said good-bye, the girls told him, "We are making you a Girl Scout promise, we will get these cookies to your dad."
Our booth sale ended at noon. One girl kindly stayed behind with another parent to close up. The three other girls decided that before going home, they had one important promise to keep. Once at the VA Hospital, they took the elevator to the fourth floor, and started asking nurses for the father. "Yes, his room is right there, he is with his family."
The girls walked in, carrying armfuls of donated cookies, and there was the son with his dad, along with several other family members. Upon seeing the girls, the son broke out in a huge smile, sweeter than any Thin Mint. The girls explained to the dad that his son had bought Girl Scout cookies for him, and that he could take whatever he wanted. Then, the girls gave a detailed description of each type of cookie to make sure he got his favorites.
The father seemed to get a big kick out of the surprise delivery, and was even willing to pose for pictures with the girls, his family and his cookies. The family thanked us, and we thanked them for the privilege of getting to be with them.
"You are thanking us for the cookies, but we really want to thank you, because today, we got to see how much a son loves his dad," I said.
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts. But our troop celebration is starting early, as we prepare to deliver more than 100 additional boxes to the Palo Alto VA Hospital. Thank you, Palo Alto, and most of all, thank you, veterans.
Carrie Manley volunteers for Junior Girl Scout Troop 60893. She lives in the Midtown neighborhood of Palo Alto with her family and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org