Every year between the months of January and April, Girl Scouts throughout the country set up booths to sell cookies. It’s a time that many of us look forward to, stocking up on our favorite flavors: Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs. Each troop donates their proceeds to a different organization of their choice. This year, Troop 62171, located in Hillsborough, California, decided to donate $1,000 to the Gladstone President's COVID-19 Research Fund to support scientists who are searching for ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent COVID-19.
When Troop 62171 started their cookie sales at the beginning of this year, coronavirus had not yet hit its peak. They originally had plans to send their funds to another organization. But as the crisis unfolded, it became clear to the group of 4th graders where they needed to focus their attention.
“I created a survey to see how many members of the troop wanted to support some kind of coronavirus effort,” says Troop Leader Kristi Nyhus. “They unanimously voted to direct their funds to coronavirus.”
Nyhus gave the girls a list of possible organizations to choose from. The organizations ranged from restaurant and small business funds, to support for health care workers, and finally to biomedical research.
Nyhus was first introduced to Gladstone through a webinar hosted by the Burlingame Country Club. Gladstone Senior Investigator Warner Greene, MD, PhD, gave a presentation to the country club about what we know about the virus and how Gladstone researchers are working to help find ways to end the pandemic.
After the talk, Nyhus had a follow-up question about whether dogs could be carriers of COVID-19. Her father wanted her to take her dog on walks, but she worried about him being in a higher risk category. Nyhus was able to start a direct conversation with Greene after submitting her question.
“Warner’s presentation was exceptional,” says Nyhus, who is the mother of one of the girls in the troop. “And I was impressed that the scientists were willing to reach out to me and answer my questions.”
It was after this presentation that Nyhus decided to include Gladstone as one of the potential recipients of the cookie money. Gladstone received the highest number of votes from the girls in the troop.
“Gladstone stood out for me because they are trying to find ways to cure the coronavirus,” says Kailyn, a 10-year-old in Troop 62171. “Science is a main way that we are going to be able to stop this crisis so we don’t have so many people having to stay home and in shelters.”
When a troop makes a donation, they ask the recipients to provide a short, 10–15-minute presentation to the troop, explaining their mission as an organization. When Nyhus reached out to Gladstone, President Deepak Srivastava agreed to give the presentation himself.
“I was blown away by the conversation I had with the troop,” says Srivastava. “One of the girls asked about the ‘R’ value of the virus. It was incredible that these kids were so well-informed. Many adults might not even ask me this question.”
What was originally planned to be a short presentation turned into a 45-minute conversation about the importance of wearing masks to decrease the spread of the virus, and the role that biomedical research can play in fighting this pandemic.
“When we learn science in school, we learn that these are the facts and this is how the world works,” explains Srivastava. “But I wanted to share with the troop that the really exciting part about science is getting to discover how the world works and uncover new findings.”
The girls set a high goal for cookie sales this year, and their hard work will make a difference in the effort to find a solution to the pandemic.
“Of all the donations we’ve received for our coronavirus efforts, this is the one that I and the other scientists are touched by the most,” says Srivastava. “Seeing this group of nine- and ten-year-olds come together and work so hard on behalf of research is one of the reasons that I’m optimistic about the future.”