It’s hard not to be jaded about national food holidays nowadays. With roughly 450 current food holidays announced, there’s one for every day of the year, and then some. Most of these days tend to be created by those who stand to directly financially benefit from the public awareness and media attention such a day can bring. For example, National Drive-Thru Day was the brainchild of the fast food chain Jack in the Box while National Peanut Butter Day was created by the National Peanut Board. New holidays are reviewed by a small committee, and the creator is charged up to $4,000.
But if there is one that doesn’t deserve your cynicism, it’s National Doughnut Day, celebrated the first Friday of every June.
The origins of National Doughnut Day date back much further than the modern food holidays, and it has a much deeper history, too. The day is as much about celebrating the people behind it as it is about the actual circular fried food.
During World War I, women volunteering for the Salvation Army made and distributed donuts to soldiers overseas as a way to boost morale. About 250 volunteers traveled to the front lines in France and set up small huts where they could provide spiritual and emotional support to soldiers as well as distribute clothes, supplies and baked goods.
The Salvation Army still speaks of two women — Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance — who cleverly began frying donuts in the soldiers’ helmets to overcome the difficult conditions for baking in the huts.
Nicknamed the “Donut Lassies,” the women are credited with popularizing the fried dough treat in the United States, as demand increased as the troops (nicknamed “doughboys”) returned home from the war.
The first official National Doughnut Day was launched in 1938, during the Great Depression, by the Chicago branch of the Salvation Army as a way to raise awareness and funds for the work the organization was doing in the community, but the spirit and celebration behind the day stood in recognition of these selfless women’s war efforts.
The tradition was reinstated by the Red Cross during World War II, and the morale boost they brought wasn’t limited to the tasty treats they baked.
LIFE magazine wrote of the young, female volunteers, “They are handpicked for looks, education, personality and experience in recreational fields. They are hardy physically and have a sociable, friendly manner.”
Soldiers would greet the women with “howls of delight,” and from their excitement spun the slogan “doughnuts will win the war!”
While many costly and noble efforts contributed to the overall victory of the war, of course, it’s fun to celebrate the place doughnuts have had in history.
Today, many donut shops like to celebrate the day by giving away free donuts in the spirit of the war volunteers. Here are a few national stores where you can score free donuts on Friday, June 2.
Get a donut for free. No purchase necessary.
Enjoy a free classic donut of your choice with the purchase of any beverage.
Receive any donut that has a hole for free, with this coupon. No purchase necessary.