A taste of history: Fried dough, front lines & The Salvation Army

Salvation Army Donut Lassies serve a wounded soldier

What do a small round piece of fried dough and one of America’s oldest charities have in common? You may be surprised to learn that there is actually a rich history between the tasty donut treats and The Salvation Army – so much so, we actually started National Donut Day in 1938.

Each year on the first Friday in June, National Donut Day honors Salvation Army Donut Lassies, dubbed Donut Girls, who made fresh, complementary donuts for American soldiers serving in France during World War I. Two Lassies named Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance cleverly thought to fry the donuts, made from the limited ingredients available (watch video).

The scent of fresh baked goods permeated the air and drew homesick soldiers to the service “hut” where they could enjoy a taste of home. Word spread quickly among the soldiers – “If you’re hungry and broke, you can get something to eat at The Salvation Army.”

Approximately 250 Salvation Army volunteers traveled overseas during WWI to set up these service “huts” located in abandoned buildings near the front lines. One of the volunteers was Signa Leona Saunders from Brainerd, Minn., who wrote a memoir about her experience. In addition to serving donuts, the Donut Girls also provided writing supplies and stamps, and offered a clothes-mending service to the soldiers in battle.

Donuts became synonymous with Salvation Army and American WWI vets who were returning home with the nickname “doughboys.”

The tradition continued as the Donut Girls again served soldiers in World War II and the Vietnam War. Ask any veteran and it’s likely they remember the Salvation Army Donut Girls and these delicious reminders of home.

The very first celebration of National Donut Day raised funds for people in need during the Great Depression. Since then, the day is a way to honor the memory of soldiers on the first Friday in June.

All this talk about donuts have your mouth watering? Print the original Salvation Army donut recipe, so you can taste them for yourself.

Today, The Salvation Army provides 64 million meals, including donuts to millions of Americans every year. In Minnesota and North Dakota alone, 992,000 meals are served annually to people in need. The donut continues to be a comfort food served by The Salvation Army to those in need during times of disaster.

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