Essay – Scrounging

There are a lot of needs in scouting, from space to resources and gear of every type, but raising the funds for all of that is not easy – in fact often it is not possible. When that is the case, having a parent or leader with scrounging skills is a Godsend. When I was in the military we had a Scrounger in our unit, a bloke who could maybe not get everything we needed, but could and often did find an alternate way to accomplish whatever it was that needed doing.

In scouting this is even more a necessity – but fortunately for us there is an almost endless cadre of Supply Sergeants and executives, managers and procurement agents, not to mention store managers and business owners – with long memories of the joy that they had in scouting as a youth. These are your best bet for scrounging not because they can give you something that you need – but because YOU can give THEM something that they may be unaware that they need: the opportunity to contribute to scouting!

I Scrounge therefore I Scrounge

It is not just connections that help – a willingness to cold-call on a business to ask for help is a major tool in the Scrounger’s kit, but before you decide to be a Scrounger there are a few things you need to know!

Do NOT ask for money. You can’t because it is not allowed. Council and National have programs that solicit that sort of help, and it is their territory not the Scroungers, so remember do not ask for money – and if you are offered money, refer the generous person to Council!

Do NOT be tempted to raffle. Raffles are viewed as gambling in parts of the country and for that reason we do not do that. That is not to say that a raffle cannot be organized for your Pack or Troop – it just means YOU cannot do it.

Let’s say that your Pack/Troop needs a new trailer to haul its gear around. You can ask a group or entity to buy you the trailer, but you cannot ask them for the money to buy the trailer. While YOU cannot hold a raffle, THEY can if that is how they want to raise the money to buy you the trailer. You see how this works? There is no conflict of interest, and if they buy you the trailer, you can make it clear that they did so by noting that ON the trailer – have a sign company make the signs for your trailer that say “Pack 41 Cub Scouts” and “This Trailer Donated by Acme Lumber” and you have done a good job! Your Pack has its trailer and the organization that donated it gets credit that is deserved.

Ten Hut!

One of the best places to Scrounge is the military. Let me tell you why before you start trying to figure this out for yourself, because unless you have been in the military you won’t get it right…

There are two types of surplus in the military – every military – they all work along the same lines.

Type I Surplus – This is the stuff we don’t use anymore because we got better stuff.

The military is constantly upgrading its gear when new or better tech comes along. For instance recently the military phased-out the Alice Pack System that it has been using since the war in Vietnam for a new system that is modular and so more flexible to their needs. As a result of this there are warehouses full of Alice Pack gear – gear that is perfectly suitable for use as backpack and camping gear for scouts – waiting to be sold to the surplus market for literally pennies a pound.

Type II Surplus – We downsized.

Each command has a TOE – Table of Equipment – that it is required to maintain for the force size it is allotted. They are required to have the gear that is needed by each member of their force allotment, but they are also required to dispose of any gear that is in excess of their force allotment. What happens to this extra gear when a unit gets downsized? It gets sold to the surplus market in large lots for pennies a pound by an agency called the GSA – Government Services Administration. Basically they hold really big garage sales all over the country.

What this means to you

The Sergeant in charge of maintaining the TOE would much rather give this gear to a Scouting group than have it sent to the GSA, because they know that once it gets to the GSA it will be sold cheap and turn up on the shelves of some Army/Navy store to be resold for a LOT more than it was bought for! Plus a lot of these Sergeants were Scouts once, and they know we need the gear.

Special Rules about Scrounging from the Military

There are some special rules you need to be aware of when you scrounge from the military – these are not written on paper or in stone, but they exist nonetheless.

The first is – you cannot resell the items they give you. You have to understand that if we were to take a donation from the Army and then sell it on eBay, even though the profits from the sale go to the Pack, Troop or Council, the Army doesn’t like it. They give us the stuff to use, not sell, and as Scrounger it is YOUR job to be sure that you are asking for and accepting items that you can USE.

Remember to be sure to tell all of the parents in your unit that you are a scrounger – our first contact with the Army for the sleeping bags we got came as a tip from a parent!

As a Scrounger I have accepted the following items from the military:

  • Sleeping bags (Arctic/Zero Degree)
  • Packs and gear
  • Tools
  • Web belts
  • Flashlights
  • Bug Sticks
  • Clothing
  • First Aid Kits

As a Scrounger I have been offered the following items but refused them because I knew we could not USE them:

  • Helmets
  • Bayonets
  • Bayonet Sheaths
  • Helmet Liners
  • Parachutes
  • A Vehicle

There are items that are on my want list – items I hope to obtain from the military, such as Food warmers/coolers, mobile kitchen gear, General Purpose Tents, Summer Weight Sleeping Bags – and as long as I am patient and persistent I have every reason to believe that I will one day get some of these items! But would I if I accepted items that I cannot use? For all I know the offer of those items was a test to see if I was taking anything I could get – to resell what I could not use. If I were them I would want to know if the Scrounger they were dealing with was following the rules, wouldn’t you?

It’s Not Just Old Stuff

Don’t target surplus alone – the military is a great place to get the infrastructure items that your scouts need, but don’t overlook the obvious! Big chain groceries have established policy on supporting scouts! Wal-Mart will happily donate a $20 gift card that you can use to buy items you need for the Blue and Gold Banquet – and so will Stop & Shop and Shaws! McDonalds will happily give you gift certificates to give away as door prizes at your banquet too, just use your imagination! You cannot ask for money, but you can ask for goods and services, and those items qualify.

Remember that you are Accountable

It is easy to forget that you are accountable for what you Scrounge, and it is even easier to forget that what you scrounge is not yours in point of law, in fact if you are scrounging just for your unit then the items you obtain actually belong to your sponsoring organization, so you will need to keep an accounting of what you scrounged and what was done with it in case they need to report that to their board or the government – or in our case the Diocese. Make darn sure you do not scrounge something that could embarrass them!

If you are scrounging for Council make sure you inform the source of the goods that you are doing that so that THEY record the items as being donated to Council and not your unit, and then make sure you get all of the items to Council.

If you scrounge for your unit and you end up with way more than you can use – we got a hundred cold-weather sleeping bags once – find out what your unit needs and fill those needs, then go to your Scout Troops that are part of your area and see what they need and give it to them. After that, make Council aware that you have surplus scrounged goods because Council knows where that will be best sent, believe it.

The Life of a Scrounger

It is a good one – if you need a pat on the back and you do a good job every now and then you’ll get patted on the back. Being a scrounger may have negative connotations in civilian life, but in Scouting it’s a lifestyle!