Long Beach-area Boy Scouts unload food donations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photo.

While the world was put on pause by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boy Scouts of Long Beach stayed true to their mission.

The organization’s service offerings became more crucial than ever, and annual programming like the Scouting for Food event—a food drive the organization has held on the second Saturday of November since the ‘80s—continued in 2021, providing critical support to those in need.

While the Scouting for Food collection itself happens on a single day, Scouts typically leave a collection bag on their neighbors’ porches to be filled with food in the weeks prior to the event. Last year, the Long Beach Salvation Army and Lakewood’s Project Shepard both benefited from the drive, receiving 22,567 pounds of food total.

The Scouting for Food event is just one of many food-related projects the Scouts undertake, with food donations occurring “nearly every weekend of the year,” according to Long Beach Boy Scouts CEO Marc Bonner.

And last year, an impromptu food donation came from an unlikely source: the Boy Scouts’ annual popcorn sales drive, which Scouts use as a fundraiser.

“Between August and November each year, our Scouts sell popcorn to pay their way for campouts, achievements, equipment, uniforms, and more,” Bonner said.

Last year, though, there was a surplus of about 220 bags of popcorn that were still good but hadn’t been sold.

Seeing an opportunity, the Scouts reached out to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, and the organization donated the extra popcorn to the hospital “as a thank you for all their hard work during the pandemic,” Bonner said.

Newly minted Long Beach Eagle Scouts, meanwhile, also had an impact last year.

To receive the coveted title, aspiring Eagle Scouts must earn 21 merit badges and lead a large-scale program that contributes to their community in a positive way.

Only 6% of eligible Scouts are named an Eagle Scout, and in 2021, 71 Long Beach members joined the exclusive group after raising more than $110,000 to help schools, hospitals, parks, and other community organizations.

While the Boy Scouts have continued in their efforts to help the local community, the organization itself has also sought to maintain the service and experience it provides to members.

That includes members who don’t have the time or money to participate in the traditional Boy Scouts experience. The organization’s ScoutReach program, an afterschool program that launched in 2005 to make the Boy Scouts more accessible for all interested students, was derailed by the pandemic and its associated school closures.

But the program, which was available at 33 sites across the city before COVID-19 hit, is slowly being revived.

“In September 2021, we got back up and running at four schools,” Bonner said. “School principals reached out to us to ask if we would be coming back. We have a fifth school opening up very soon with another three or four planned for later this year.”

The Boy Scouts’ camp offerings are also making a comeback.

While 2020 saw operations at both the Scouts’ remote camps—Camp Tahquitz and Sea Base—put on hold, both programs returned last year.

Camp Tahquitz offers kids the opportunity to study nature, shoot rifles, climb and rappel on a 640-acre property in the San Bernardino Mountains, while Sea Base takes kids to a leased waterfront property in Long Beach where they can kayak, canoe and sail.

Referring to the two camp locations, Bonner said, “We have unique assets that are rare, and I can’t think of many others who have them.”

There was high demand for both camps last year, but Sea Base camp in particular saw a spike in participants, with over 800 kids participating in the eight-week camp program, up from an average of 600 to 650 kids in the four-to-five years leading up to 2020.

But perhaps the biggest moment of the pandemic for the Boy Scouts’ Long Beach Area Council involved just one member: Lily Morse.

After first being allowed to become a Boy Scout in 2019, Morse worked for 18 months to become the council’s first ever female Eagle Scout.

The path wasn’t always easy. Morse’s determination—a key trait for all Eagle Scouts—was evident after she received the accolade.

Morse told Backpacker Magazine that after the Boy Scouts announced her new rank, she was often called sexist or homophobic names. Some people even accused her of cheating the requirements.

“I’ve had some a lot of boys and even adults tell me I shouldn’t be there,” Morse told ABC Channel 7 News. “While it’s really frustrating, it kind of just encouraged me to keep going and want to be an Eagle Scout even more.”

Looking ahead, the Long Beach Boy Scouts are eager to jump into 2022. As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen, the organization has a full calendar of activities and events.

“I would invite all families in Long Beach to check out the amazing opportunities we offer youth,” Bonner said.

Those interested in participating can visit the Scouts’ website at www.longbeachbsa.org, visiting their social media platforms, or by calling their Scout Service Center at 562-427-0911.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.