National Doughnut Day: How Salvation Army volunteers in WWI helped create a sweet holiday!

While many doughnut shops are offering special deals for National Doughnut Day, the Salvation Army’s mission remains the same as it did in WWI.
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 6:33 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - What do doughnuts, the military and the Salvation Army have in common?

A lot, as it turns out!

More than a century ago, roughly 250 American women journeyed overseas to join the front lines of World War I. Rather than fighting, this all-volunteer unit from the Salvation Army was there on a different mission: boosting morale.

These courageous women passed out clothes and supplies, offered spiritual comfort, and whipped up hot meals.

But it was a certain pastry that became their lasting legacy.

Using whatever tools were at their disposal --shell casings as rolling pins, helmets as frying pans – the women started cooking up a then-little-known pastry, called a doughnut.

The doughnuts proved to be a hit, earning the volunteers the nickname “Doughnut Lassies.” The Lassies and their doughnuts became a symbol of comfort during the war, attracting lines of troops anytime that sweet smell drifted out of their huts. Songs were even written in ode to the Doughnut Lassies.

The troops would bring their obsession with the treat back to American shores, arguably starting the doughnut craze as we know it.

“Soldiers came back looking for a little bit more of that treat they got at wartime, and that’s when the doughnut shops started,” said Capt. Doug Hanson, El Paso County coordinator for the Salvation Army. “... If you just google when Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, Wenchells and all these doughnut shops, when did they start, you’re going to see that most of them started in the 30s and 40s, a little after WWI and a little before WWII.

“It’s been attributed to the Salvation Army and other publications that we gave America its appetite for doughnuts. You are welcome, USA!”

In 1938, as a nod to the Lassies, the Salvation Army created the first-ever National Doughnut Day in Chicago as a way to fundraise during the Great Depression. The Lassies’ war contributions were truly immortalized in 1954, when then-President Dwight Eisenhower declared day an official national holiday. It’s now celebrated every year on the first Friday in June!

More information about this year's Doughnut Day in Colorado Springs.
More information about this year's Doughnut Day in Colorado Springs.(Salvation Army)

And while many doughnut shops and grocery stores are offering special deals for National Doughnut Day, the Salvation Army’s mission remains the same as it did in WWI.

“It’s a day President Dwight Eisenhower started to commemorate the Salvation Army’s work with the U.S. troops. We started supporting the U.S. troops in wartime, in the front lines of war, starting in World War I. That tradition of supporting the U.S. military continues to today,” Hanson said.

Like the Lassies before them, Salvation Army volunteers are dropping off thousands of doughnuts Friday to service members, law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders.

They’re also using the day to raise awareness. While Salvation Army partner Krispy Kreme is offering a free doughnut to customers who come to the Colorado Springs store, the Salvation Army wants to remind the public that the cost of just a dozen doughnuts can go a long way for a veteran in need.

“We here in the Salvation Army of Colorado Springs, we have one of the state’s largest and most successful veteran THP [transitional housing] program, which takes homeless veterans off the streets and puts them into self-sufficiency,” Hanson said. “If you would like to support our efforts at passing out thousands of doughnuts and support our veterans program that Doughnut Day is highlighting, you can go to our website at On, you can find ways to donate or to volunteer to support these programs.”

So when you enjoy a doughnut today, remember the sacrifices of our veterans, the good works of the Salvation Army, and, of course, the Doughnut Lassies!

And if you want a taste of history, check out the original recipe for the Lassies’ doughnuts!


- Amy’s Donuts (Passing out free bags of doughnut holes all day while supplies last)

- Dunkin’ Donuts (Free doughnuts with purchase of any beverage)

- Mochi Thai’m Donuts (Free churro or powdered sugar mochi donut with a purchase of a drink)

- Krispy Kreme (Free doughnut as well as a $2 dozen of glazed doughnuts with any purchase of a dozen)

- Shipley’s Do-Nuts (Free glazed doughnut through online order or in store all morning)

- Hurt’s Donuts (Getting into the original spirit of the day, a portion of all sales will go towards a local military charity)

Do-nut see your favorite shop on this list? Call and check to see if they have any deals, and let us know to add it above!