The Girl Scouts have been selling cookies for 101 years, but for a New York City troop, this year marks the first time they are participating in the tradition, and it's monumental for a special reason.
Troop 6000, established in 2017, is New York City's first homeless shelter-based Girl Scouts of Greater New York City troop. Many of the troops members live in a hotel operating as a shelter in Long Island City, Queens and other shelters throughout the city. According to the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, the program, in partnership with the NYC Department of Homeless Services, is being expanded, with the goal of serving 500 girls and women across 15 sites this year.
Karina, 12, was one of the founding members of Troop 6000 when she was living in the shelter. "I wasn't expecting [becoming homeless] to ever happen to me," Karina told Refinery29 as she took cookie orders from the line of people wrapped around Kellog's, a cereal cafe in Union Square. "You hear about it, you see people that live on the streets, but you wouldn't think an actual homeless person would look like me or all the other beautiful girls around here."
More than 23,000 children are estimated to be living in New York City's homeless shelters, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness found that the average homeless elementary school student misses 88 days of school — which is almost half of the school year. "It was kinda scary," Karina said of living in the shelter. "I was 11 at the time. It was boring there, you had nothing to do but go in your room. You couldn't stay out past 9 p.m. So it was scary."
Ruby Cornelio, 34, still lives in the shelter with her two daughters, Jasmine, 8, and Juwanda, 6. Cornelio told Refinery29 she loves the scouts for her children and selling cookies has been a great opportunity for them. "It's a big step to take because it teaches them responsibility, it's a good skill to learn at a young age."
According to Meridith Maskara, CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater New York, Troop 6000's initiative exemplifies what the organization is about. "This event embodies the key values of Girl Scouting — our commitment to having Girl Scouts be an experience for all girls, representing the rich diversity of our city, and our girl-led approach, that drives all our programs and is instrumental to the over a century of success we have had in supporting girls in becoming tomorrow's leaders," Maskara told Refinery29 in a statement.
Karina, who has since moved out of the shelter, said that she loves going on trips with her fellow Girl Scouts, who she refers to as her sisters, and that the organization has brought them really close together. She told Refinery29 she wants to be a journalist because she loves to write — or maybe a singer, because she's on her school's worship team.
"Girl Scouts has taught me I can be whoever I want to be, no matter what age, what gender," Karina said. "I can be whatever what I want to be. I don't have to be a boy [to do that], I can be a girl."
*Disclosure: Refinery29 staffers purchased $58 worth of cookies from the troop, facilitated by this reporter.