Donuts sparked Salvation Army’s service to military for 110 years, national leader says

Published: 10 June 2024

By Mark Kellner
via The Washington Times newspaper (DC) website

Salvation Army donuts

Evangelical church seeks to ‘do the most good’ for those in need

The Salvation Army’s 110-year-old gambit of giving American soldiers in World War I a “taste of home” helped fuel this nation’s obsession with the circular pastry, its national leader said.

According to Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder, the evangelical organization’s dispatch of hundreds of its ministers to the front lines in Europe led to an improvised “taste of home” prepared for the troops: deep-fried rings of dough.

The female Salvation Army ministers who dished out the treats became known as “donut lassies.” American soldiers called themselves “doughboys,” Mr. Hodder said, and a tradition was born.

Twenty years after the war ended, Salvation Army boosters in Chicago celebrated the first “National Donut Day” on June 7, one day after the 80th anniversary of the World War II Normandy invasion.

Mr. Hodder, a sixth-generation Salvationist, said in a video interview that the Army had an entree with the military because Gen. John J. Pershing remembered the group’s kindness when a fire took the lives of Pershing’s wife and four daughters at the Presidio in San Francisco.

“When he got to the frontlines in France a few years later, as head of the American Expeditionary Force, he asked [Salvation Army Commander] Evangeline Booth if we could send over personnel to give his soldiers the same kind of support that he had received in his time of need. And, of course, we were happy to do so,” Mr. Hodder said.

He said the “lassies” had no military training but would lead worship services, comfort the wounded, and help soldiers write letters back home, even reading missives to those who couldn’t read.

Military leader Pershing’s goodwill towards The Salvation Army had repercussions, Mr. Hodder said.

“He mentored [Army Gens. George S.] Patton, [Douglas] MacArthur, [George C.] Marshall and [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, all to love The Salvation Army,” he said. “As we remember, D-Day, our minds go back to Eisenhower, who is shown in a number of pictures eating a Salvation Army doughnut during World War Two. And as president … he would declare [National] Salvation Army week, as a week in May.”

While relatively few Americans know of The Salvation Army as a church, millions more know it as the country’s largest social services organization.

“If you took The Salvation Army’s emergency beds, and you combine them with the gospel missions in the country, you’d have about 75% of all the emergency beds in this country,” Mr. Hodder said. The group “has the most successful substance abuse program model in the country. It is entirely free. People can come in and take part in it as many times as they wish; they are always welcome.”

The group continues its ministry to the U.S. military and families through associations with the Department of Defense and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which provides extensive youth programming at military installations.

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