When members of Girl Scout Troop 701 were brainstorming ideas for their Silver Award, Riley Duncan thought of her cats.
Duncan adopted her cats, Cosmo and Luna, from Manatee County's Cat Town Adoption Center in Bradenton. She was sad to see so many cats there and wanted to give them something to enjoy.
Duncan suggested to her fellow troop members that they make cat scratchers out of Girl Scout cookie cases to donate to Cat Town.
While half the troop worked to make cat scratchers for their Silver Award, which is the second highest award a Girl Scout can receive, the other half of the troop decided to make blankets out of chip bags to donate to those who are homeless.
The troop found inspiration and lessons on how to make the chip bag blankets from a group in England. They saw it as a way to recycle materials while creating a blanket that would be waterproof and keep people who are homeless warm.
Reese Gurski, Isabella Arteaga and Alice Barr collected dozens of empty bags of chips from family, friends and classmates at school to start their blankets.
After cleaning them, they had to lay out the bags in the design they wanted, then iron them on parchment paper to fuse them together. They would then iron on plastic wrap to make the blanket waterproof and, lastly, trim it as a final touch.
Arteaga said working on the project was a “labor of love.”
“This is something we all were passionate about," she said. Seeing what we can do and how it can help other people is something important.”
Barr said working on the project gave the girls time to reflect on everything they have and how the project was going to make an impact in the community.
“It encourages you to finish it,” she said. “You think about what you’re grateful for because you think about how you don’t need to make these for yourself because you have a roof over your head. It was good to self reflect.”
The troop made 10 blankets and 23 cat scratchers.
For the past year, the girls would meet at Camp Honi Hanta to work on their projects on top of attending their usual meetings and participating in other activities. The projects became easier with experience. They learned what worked and what didn’t.
Jennifer Lopez said she loved making the cat scratchers because she was able to make an impact on the cats at the shelter. She also loved being able to have fun with her friends in the process.
The troop members cut cookie cases into strips and either rolled them up and hot glued them to make circular cat scratchers or they stacked the pieces to make rectangle scratchers.
As a requirement for the Silver Award, each girl had to spend at least 50 hours on the project.
With each quilt taking at least four hours to make and each cat scratcher taking at least an hour and a half, the girls easily reached their 50-hour goal.
The troop will donate the blankets, along with at least 10 blessing bags that are filled with hygiene products and toiletries, to the Umbrella Women at Woodland Community Church. The group works with and provides meals to those who are homeless in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
The girls also wrote encouraging notes to those who will receive the blankets and blessing bags.
The girls are proud to have earned their Silver Awards while making an impact on their community.
“I feel relieved because not a lot of people finish their Silver Awards,” Lopez said. “It makes you feel good because every Silver Award contributes to the community and helps it in some way. I feel happy I’m a part of that.”
Barr said she can be a role model for younger Girl Scouts and show that it’s possible to earn a Silver Award with hard work and dedication.
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.