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Tabreya Love, 10,, left, Makylah Harris, 9, Jessica Llerenas, 10, and Brittany Harper, 9, sell girl scout cookies outside Pak n' Save in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday Mar. 1, 2008. (Ray Chavez/The Oakland Tribune)
They're at it again. Girl Scouts and Brownies are out in full force, selling boxes of those familiar cookies, a yearly fundraising event that teaches them financial literacy, business and communication skills.

Across the Bay Area, cookies are being sold in booths in front of grocery stores, city sidewalks and shopping centers. The sale kicked off Friday and runs through March 16. Now in its 91st year, proceeds from the sale help troops pay for camping trips, community service projects and other activities.

Although the cookie names remain the same, other aspects of the annual event have evolved over the years.

Nowadays, there is more emphasis on using the event as a learning tool for setting financial goals, building self confidence and communicating with the public.

Girls use e-mail to contact friends and family members to take orders before cookie booth sales start. Safety concerns also have changed the business of selling cookies when going door-to-door in a neighborhood.

Martha Bratton, 70, has been either a Brownie or Girl Scout troop leader for two decades. She is a leader with Girl Scout Troop 30159 in San Lorenzo.

Bratton sold Girl Scout cookies while growing up in San Leandro, and she pointed out how things were different back then.

"When I was in Girl Scouts in the '40s and '50s, it was just 'Go out and sell cookies.' We just took a wagon and went into the neighborhood. We did not need an adult, but now you do wherever you go," Bratton said. "We never really understood where the troop profits went.


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The girls now, they are very aware of it."

Back then, of course, the cookies were cheaper -- perhaps 35 or 50 cents a box, Bratton said.

Today, a box sells for $3.50 in the Bay Area.

Not only are cookies more expensive today, the varieties are trans-fat free. One type is sugar-free. That requires the girls to be able to answer nutritional questions posed by potential customers, Bratton said.

Last year, troops in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties sold more than 1.9 million boxes. That amount was enough to make up more than half of the revenues needed to fund local Girl Scout programs. Nationally, cookie sales raised about $700 million to support troop activities.

Raising funds isn't the only accomplishment of the cookie sales. Girls also gain self confidence, leaders say.

"They really get more focused and confident. My daughter was very, very shy about the cookie sales," Bratton recalled. "It brought out her personality."

Michelle Figueira, an assistant leader for Brownie Troop 30091 in Pinole, said her troop, made up of 10 third-graders, participated in its first cookie sale when their girls were first-graders. Since then, the girls have become more confident as they have gained experience selling cookies, she said.

"First grade is when the parents helped out (more). Now, we can stand back and let the girls run the show. We are just supporting them," Figueira said.

Figueira's 8-year-old daughter, Skylar, is a member of Troop 30091.

When selling, it's important to explain how the cookie sales will help the troop, Skylar said.

"You have to have eye contact and say 'Hello,'" Skylar said. "When the customer purchases something, we say, 'Thanks for supporting our troop.'"

Marina Park, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts Council of Northern California, said cookie sales teach girls skills that will be valuable throughout their lives when setting goals.

"The girls typically work with a troop leader to set a goal. What does the troop want to do this year? What is it going to cost?" said Park, adding that those factors translate into how many boxes need to be sold to accomplish a particular goal.

"For some of them, it's funding a community service project that they want to do. Girl Scouts is girl-led within each troop. It's what the girls want. That takes teamwork and negotiation," she said.

To find a cookie sale in your area, go to http://www.cookiefinder.org. You also can call 800-447-4475, Ext. 190 to be put in touch with a local troop that is selling cookies. Girl Scout cookies are not sold online.

Reach Eve Mitchell at 925-952-2690 or emitchell@bayareanewsgroup.com.