For the past 78 years the first Friday in June has marked Doughnut Day, a celebration where one can walk into just about any Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts in America and walk out with a free doughnut. But beyond all that yeast, jelly, and glaze, there lies a charitable past.
If you were an American soldier serving abroad in World War I, respite was in the form of a visiting Doughnut Dollie, a Red Cross servicewoman who distributed piping hot coffee and fresh doughnuts. It was a taste of home and a small slice of comfort.
Back in the States, the country was in a constant state of fundraising for the troops. People grew victory gardens, conserved fuel, and cut back on luxuries like wheat and meat. In 1918, a bake sale to end all bake sales was mounted in various cities and doughnuts were sold to the masses, the profits—and more doughnuts—going to support the troops.
“Doughnuts Sold Here Today for Boys in France,” read the Chicago Daily Tribune’s headline on August 16, 1918. Reports from the Salvation Army of Chicago indicated they raised $100,000 and cooked over 40,000 doughnuts. The idea was that for every doughnut sold at home, half a dozen doughnuts would be baked and shipped over to the troops.
Doughnut Day stuck, and the next year the New York Times reported on the 1919 affair, which turned Doughnut Day into a week-long Doughnut Drive. “When daylight peeped into the kitchens of Mrs. Vincent Astor's home at 840 Fifth Avenue, amateur 'chefs' and Salvation Army experts from St. Mihiel and beyond took stock and found that 17,000 doughnuts had been cooked during the night,” the paper reported of one example. The city raised $500,000 in the first two days.
The efforts continued on and off over the years. The soldiers were home, but the money went toward families without food or proper housing.
Doughnut Day petered off for a few years but, in 1938, as the country clawed itself out of depression and war was again on the horizon, Chicago’s Salvation Army revived the tradition and sold pieces of doughnut-shaped paper to raise money.
That first year of paper doughnuts solidified the holiday as a first Friday of June tradition, and the Salvation Army counts it as the first official Doughnut Day.
We may not have boys in France who need hot doughnuts, but there are still a few shops around the country donating a portion of their proceeds from Doughnut Day to charity.
Portland Oregon’s Blue Star Donuts have created a special rose donut, and while they aren’t giving any away, the four Blue Star locations will donate 10 percent of sales from Doughnut Day to a local charity. Entenmann’s donates doughnuts to Chicago-area Salvation Army stores. Additionally, LaMar’s Donuts brings in the bell ringers and red kettles we normally associate with Christmas to raise funds for the Salvation Army at each of their 27 stores, located in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Alabama.