Celebrating Over a Century of Doing the Most Good: Why We Celebrate National Donut Day

Jun 7, 2024

National Donut Day. There are few things more widely loved than a donut. That is why National Donut Day is a holiday celebrated by so many donut shops around the country, big and small. Taking place on the first Friday of June, “National Donut Day” (or just “Donut Day”) is an opportunity to get a free donut at many stores participating in this celebration. As a result, many donut shops give away free donuts to customers. If that’s how you have come to know about this special holiday, then it may come as a shock to learn that Donut Day’s origins began with The Salvation Army’s long-standing mission of helping those in need.

The tradition of handing out free donuts started over a century ago during World War I when four Salvationists from The Salvation Army were sent on an expedition to the 1st Ammunition Train of the 1st Division in September 1917. The “Donut Lassies,” as they are now known, provided typical services like giving sermons, playing music, and passing out treats like hot cocoa and fudge. Their goal was to brighten the soldiers’ spirits and keep their minds at bay from the terrors they were exposed to on the front lines of the war.

After realizing that serving baked goods to the soldiers would be difficult due to limited rations, two of the Salvationists, Margaret Sheldon and Helen Purviance, came up with an ingenious idea to remind the soldiers of home. They started frying donuts, a popular treat in America, in soldiers’ helmets and handing them out. Thus, the tradition of giving away free donuts was born.

Twenty years later, in 1938, The Salvation Army turned Donut Day into an official holiday in the United States by starting a fundraiser event in Chicago. This was to honor the original Donut Lassies and to raise money for those in need during the Great Depression.

Today, more than a century later, the tradition of handing out one of America’s most popular pastries is celebrated by donut shops all around the country. Dunkin’ Donuts offers a free donut with a drink purchase on National Donut Day; Krispy Kreme gives out free donuts – no strings attached; and Dough Donuts, a local donut shop in New York City that specializes in making handcrafted donuts, offers a variety of flavored donuts that you won’t find anywhere else.

The Salvation Army of Greater New York continues the tradition started by the original Donut Lassies by raising awareness of our programs through partnerships with businesses such as Krispy Kreme and Dough Donuts so we can bring this beloved, tasty, mouth-watering treat to all New Yorkers. For example, last year The Salvation Army worked with Dough Donuts to create social media content that promoted some of their delicious donut flavors on our social media accounts.

Each year, The Salvation Army of Greater New York utilizes its ongoing relationship with the multinational donut company, Krispy Kreme, to distribute more than 500 donuts to veterans and other community members at the Midtown Samaritan Daytop Village on 43rd Street in Manhattan.

As insignificant as the donut may seem, today this delicious pastry symbolizes hope, just as it did to US soldiers fighting overseas over 100 years ago. National Donut Day represents more than just getting our hands on a free donut. It stands as a testament to The Salvation Army’s unwavering mission of Doing The Most Good. Even in the face of darkness, we can become active participants for change and be a light for others. You can celebrate National Donut Day by helping The Salvation Army and its programs by donating or volunteering.

If you are interested in a corporate partnership or would like to work with The Salvation Army, please fill out the form here.

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