As 2001 came to a close, American’s emotions about the September 11 terrorist attacks were still raw. U.S. military personnel, engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom, battled terrorists in the Middle East. When San Diego’s Pacific Fleet got underway nearly every San Diegan counted friends, family members and neighbors among those deployed. Local Girl Scouts and their cookie customers were eager to send the troops a “taste of home,”” but, in response to an anthrax attack through the U.S. Mail, the Defense Department halted care packages addressed to “Any Service Member.””
The late Deborah A. Baker, APR, communications director for Girl Scouts, San Diego-Imperial Council, conceived Operation Thin Mint® (OTM) as a community service project. She partnered with council CEO Jo Dee C. Jacob to solve the challenge of delivery. As a recently retired U.S. Navy captain familiar with military logistics, Jacob enlisted the commercial shipping company APL to provide overseas transportation. Commander Navy Region Southwest helped the council secure permission for the Secretary of the Navy to accept the cookies and provide transportation from international ports into the battlefield. Meanwhile, program materials were developed for adult volunteers to train the cookie sellers about Operation Thin Mint. Baker worked with local public relations firm c3 Communications to publicize Operation Thin Mint via news releases, interviews, Clear Channel public service announcements and a web site. When the annual cookie campaign began in January 2002, Girl Scouts offered their customers a new option: to donate cookies and write notes of encouragement for military troops halfway around the world.
That first year, San Diegans responded by donating 104,330 boxes – three cargo containers – of Operation Thin Mint cookies. To celebrate success, the public was invited to an Operation Thin Mint Sendoff ceremony held at Mayflower Van and Storage. Media coverage included segments on The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN and dozens of stations nationwide. In 2003, Girl Scouts, San Diego-Imperial Council and c3 Communications received a PRSA Silver Anvil Award for the Operation Thin Mint campaign. Since 2003, OTM has been a registered trademark and continues to grow in public support and international prestige. To date, U.S. military and coalition troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Japan, Korea, and throughout the Middle East and Pacific have enjoyed nearly 1.5 million boxes – 40 cargo containers – of cookies and hundreds of thousands of note cards. In return, through letters, e-mails, cards and photos, thousands of grateful troops stationed far away, have shared with San Diegans the thrill of receiving “a taste of home and a note to show we care.”