Rochester Corps to Celebrate National Donut Day June 2!

May 18, 2023

The first Friday of every June is what The Salvation Army refers to as the sweetest day of the year, National Donut Day.


This celebration of an American classic actually has its roots in The Salvation Army’s long history of service to the active military, veterans, and their families.


The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, three years after the war had begun in Europe. In response, Salvation Army USA National Commander Evangeline Booth wrote to President Woodrow Wilson offering to provide humanitarian aid to the military. Her offer was rejected.


Persisting, Booth sent Salvation Army Lt. Colonel William Barker to meet with Joseph Tumulty, Secretary to the President. When Barker arrived, Tumulty was meeting with a prominent attorney who had been set free from alcohol abuse and was converted through The Salvation Army. After Barker stated his case, the attorney supported him and urged the Secretary to accept the help.


Barker then traveled to France, where he met with General John J. Pershing, commander of the US forces. Also having been helped by The Salvation Army, Pershing granted Barker and The Salvation Army open access.


Barker sent a message to Booth: “SEND OVER SOME LASSIES.”


These lassies would soon be referred to as “Donut Lassies” for their staple treat made for soldiers fighting in the trenches: donuts. On their first day of attempting to lift the sinking spirits of soldiers with this sweet treat, the Donut Lassies made 150 donuts. By the end of WWI, they had expanded to multiple locations, some of which were making 9,000 donuts a day, all distributed to soldiers completely free of charge. 


The Donut Lassies had no formal military training and only helmets and gas masks for protection. Often within range of artillery and mustard gas attacks, some Salvationists suffered injuries, illness or exhaustion. Lodgings frequently included dugouts and partly destroyed buildings. Some women recalled warming their feet by lit candles to prevent frostbite. Adjutant Margaret Sheldon wrote, “The rats made such a noise over our heads, we didn’t get to sleep.”


Male Salvationists ministered to soldiers, drove ambulances, transported supplies to huts and aided in hut chores.


Female Salvationists’ duties included ministry, aiding the injured, preparing and serving refreshments, repairing soldiers’ uniforms, arranging for transfer of soldiers’ pay home, writing condolence letters, visiting hospitalized soldiers, decorating graves and more. To the soldiers, these women symbolized the home they had left behind.


One of these women was Brigadier Isabella Bonger, who served as a donut lassie in France during WWI, and is the step great-grandmother of Rochester’s current Salvation Army officer, Major Candace Voeller.


*See photo of Brigadier Bonger with President Truman and another Salvationist wearing what had been Bonger's uniform while she served donuts to soldiers on the front lines during WWI. 


Both of Major Candace’s parents were Salvation Army soldiers. Her father came to know The Salvation Army on a cold winter night in Rockford, IL, when a Salvation Army officer gave his own coat to Major Candace’s grandfather.


The Corps or Church members of The Salvation Army in Rockford took a real interest in Major Candace’s father and uncles. Corps members would pick the boys up for church, and involved them in Salvation Army youth programs.


Major Candace grew up in Salvation Army youth programs herself, and is now a staunch advocate for summer camps, the opportunity to become and develop as a musician, as she was exposed to many of these opportunities over the course of her childhood.


Despite growing up within The Salvation Army, Major Candace did not always aspire to be an officer.

“When you are a young adult, you’re trying to figure out what your life is going to be. I was searching.”

She had just become a youth leader and was teaching Sunday School at The Salvation Army. Her Corps Officer at the time asked her if she would like to attend The Salvation Army International Congress as a representative.


“This was at the time that the Berlin Wall was coming down, so it was a big gathering of Salvation Army followers from all over the world.”


There were faithful people even from places where Christianity wasn’t legal. There were Salvation Army officers who had to hide their uniforms, and both minister to and serve people without being caught.  


“The word ‘joy’ was really what I felt seeing this nationwide community of Christ followers, seeing people who were willing to make such personal sacrifices in order to care for people and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.”


When she returned to her home church, she went up to the altar to pray on Sunday morning, and out of her mouth came the words, “I think I’m supposed to be a Salvation Army officer.” Her Corps Officer asked her to stand and say those words again loud enough for the whole congregation to hear, and Major Candace recalls being enveloped by her church community shortly afterwards.


“People came up to me and said that this was something they already knew about me, but they knew that realization and the decision had to come from me.”


Major Candace enrolled in The Salvation Army training college at 21, was commissioned as an officer at age 22, and married her husband, Major Cornell, at 23.


“Life went full throttle. There’s purpose when you give your life to what God would want you to do. It’s not always easy, but there’s a security in knowing you’re where God wants you to be.”

When Major Candace thinks back on the Donut Lassies of WWI, she knows that they were exactly where God wanted them to be.


“You wonder, ‘what can a donut do?’ It can instill hope and express compassion. Even in the midst of all the horrors of war, there is the possibility of something good and new.


“This ties directly to the Emergency Disaster Services work The Salvation Army does today. We can show people care and love through things as simple as a bottle of water. Whenever people see a Salvation Army canteen, they know that there are people in it who will help them.


“The Lassies gave up a lot. They were in harms way. They had to be trained to know what to do when the bombs came, because they were in the trenches with soldiers. They wrote letters for soldiers, they fed people, they were a comforting presence. We don’t know how much the little things we do can make a difference, but Jesus has blessed us and so we are blessed to serve in turn.”


All the work of The Salvation Army and other service organizations in WWI and WWII resulted in the creation of the United Service Organizations (USO) in 1941, which still serves active members of the military and their families today.


“You step out in faith, and He uses that little bit of faith to do some pretty great things.”

The Salvation Army worships every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. at 20 First Avenue NE, Rochester, MN 55906.


There is a coupon for buy one, get one donuts from Sweet House Bakery on The Salvation Army’s website This promotion will take place all day Friday, June 2.


The Salvation Army’s Canteen will be stationed at the cross of and Street SW and First Avenue SW Friday, June 2, from 8am-Noon, to distribute coffee and Sweet House Bakery donuts. All community members are welcome to visit the canteen, and to join The Salvation Army in celebrating the sweetest day of the year.

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