National Doughnut Day is on the first Friday of June each year, succeeding the Doughnut Day event created by The Salvation Army in 1938 to honor the women who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I. The holiday celebrates the doughnut (a.k.a. “donut”) — an edible, torus-shaped piece of dough which is deep-fried and sweetened. Many American doughnut stores offer free doughnuts on National Doughnut Day. In 2009, both independent doughnut shops and large national franchises offered free doughnuts in the United States.
Chris Parry from the Vancouver Sun noted in a satirical column that some Canadians are envious of the U.S. holiday.
National Doughnut Day started in 1938 as a fund raiser for Chicago’s The Salvation Army. Their goal was to help the needy during the Great Depression, and to honor The Salvation Army “Lassies” of World War I, who served doughnuts to soldiers.
Soon after the US entrance into World War I in 1917, The Salvation Army sent a fact-finding mission to France. The mission concluded that the needs of US enlisted men could be met by canteens/social centers termed “huts” that could serve baked goods, provide writing supplies and stamps, and provide a clothes-mending service. Typically, six staff members per hut would include four female volunteers who could “mother” the boys. These huts were established by The Salvation Army in the United States near army training centers.
About 250 The Salvation Army volunteers went to France. Because of the difficulties of providing freshly baked goods from huts established in abandoned buildings near to the front lines, two The Salvation Army volunteers (Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance) came up with the idea of providing doughnuts. These are reported to have been an “instant hit”, and “soon many soldiers were visiting The Salvation Army huts”. Margaret Sheldon wrote of one busy day “Today I made 22 pies, 300 doughnuts, 700 cups of coffee.”
A legend has spread that the provision of doughnuts to US enlisted men in World War I is the origin of the term doughboy to describe US infantry, but the term was in use as early as the Mexican-American War of 1846-47.
It is still a fundraiser run by The Salvation Army.