Volunteers sort Girl Scout cookies for ‘emergency drill’

By Ashley M. Casey

Blowing snow and bitter winds didn’t deter the Oswego County Health Department on Wednesday as they unloaded and sorted 26,500 boxes of cookies for about 25 local Girl Scout troops.

About 30 volunteers from several county departments processed the cookies at the Oswego County Highway Garage in Scriba as a practice run for distributing emergency supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).

This was the second year the Girl Scouts and the county teamed up for the Strategic National Stockpile drill.

The SNS is the nation’s collection of vaccines, medicines and other supplies that state and local governments must be able to distribute to the public in case of a health emergency such as a massive flu outbreak or bioterrorism attack.

“We’ve been asked by the state to demonstrate our ability (to distribute the supplies),” said Diane Oldenburg, senior public health educator for the Health Department. “It was a way to test our capabilities that goes beyond sitting around the table … with ‘paper’ scenarios.”

Volunteers wore color-coded vests — yellow and red for picking boxes, silver for quality assurance and orange for inventory control — over coats and scarves in the chilly garage.

Oldenburg said a health department staff member is involved in Girl Scouts, so the county contacted local Girl Scout leaders with the idea for the drill. Last year, volunteers handled 30,000 boxes of cookies at the drill.

County volunteers had to work quickly to break down pallets stacked high with Thin Mints and Tagalongs, sorting out the orders for area troops.

“It’s not an empty box. It’s got a little more value — it’s something that can be damaged, so it makes it a little more realistic,” Oldenburg said.

Girl Scouts NYPENN Pathways Community Development Manager Judi Knowlton and several local “cookie moms” were on hand to help as well.

“It saves us from having to get the volunteers, and it gives the county the practice they need, so it’s a win-win,” Knowlton said.

Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said Wednesday’s weather — which led to school cancellations and traffic woes across the region — did not affect the drill.

“The weather is not a factor,” Huang said. “When the real (emergencies) happen, we don’t know what the conditions will be.”

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