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Salvation Army provides taste of hope, history & comfort of home

The Salvation Army celebrated National Donut Day on Friday June 1, 2018. Salvation Army Officers and employees provided free donuts outside of the Covent Garden Market to commemorate the sacrifices made by both men and women during the First World War.

When a reluctant America entered World War I in 1917, the Salvation Army was not far behind. Literally. Several women from the evangelical Christian organization volunteered to make a “home away from home” for the soldiers of the 1st Ammunition Train, 1st Division in France, according to food writer and historian John T. Edge’s book, “Donuts: An American Passion.” This makeshift “home” was not far from the trenches where front-line troops were battling for every inch in the world’s first modern war.

The Salvation Army’s “Lassies,” as the female volunteers were known, often darned socks, mended uniforms or provided chocolates to the troops. But the boys wanted more, so Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance jury-rigged a method to fry doughnuts, either using a galvanized trash can or a soldier’s helmet filled with lard. Accounts varied, Edge noted. However the women fried the snacks, the doughnuts soon became popular with the troops, who would eagerly wait in line for them. Edge continued:

“There is no doubt that their decision to fry donuts would transform fried dough from a vaguely foreign food, loosely associated with the Dutch, into a symbol of American home and hearth, a gustatory manifestation of the ideals for which the soldiers fought. That first day, the two Lassies fried just 150 or so donuts. But as word of their loaves-and-fishes miracle spread, other Lassies took up the cause.”

The Salvation Army’s doughnut ministry in World War I would become legend, which the organization gladly promoted to any interested media outlet. The Lassies were immortalized in films, magazines and even song. But it took the Great Depression for the Salvation Army to turn the Lassies’s efforts into an annual campaign: The first National Doughnut Day — it falls on the first Friday in June annually — started in Chicago in 1938 as a way to raise money for the needy, of which there were many back in the 1930s.

“The doughnut is a symbol of our history and another way to show our appreciation to the men and women who served our country,” says Major Pat Phinney, Divisional Secretary for Public Relations. “The Salvation Army’s doughnut lassies started the tradition and made a significant contribution to the war effort which we still celebrate today.”

The London Branch of the Salvation Army thanks Rundle’s No Frills in London for providing hundreds of donuts to help us all celebrate this special day.