Columbia’s War on Poverty: Donuts and Veterans

Major Kevin Cedervall
Major Kevin Cedervall

This past Friday was one of our favorite days of the year here at The Salvation Army – National Donut Day. On this day, Salvation Army staff and volunteers are giving donuts to veterans all over the country. Here in Columbia, we did it at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital, and it really was such a great day.

Why in the heck are we passing out donuts to veterans? Well, it is an essential part of Salvation Army lore that during World War I, we had “Donut Lassies” (definitely a World War I kind of name!). These were brave women who traveled to the French front lines to distribute essential goods to soldiers, and to share their homemade sweet treats, fresh donuts homemade right there in the heat of battle.

Today, National Donut Day recognizes these women and the veterans who risked everything in what was famously called, “The War to End All Wars”. Of course, more wars followed, and the donuts have become a permanent fixture.

On Friday, local leader Captain Amy Cedervall and I donned our uniforms – hers was a reproduction of those worn by those first Donut Lassies – and helped pass out 480 donuts to patients and visitors at the VA Hospital.

It was such a fun day, but it was also a reminder that, as a nation, we are not doing nearly enough to make sure that the basic needs of our veterans are met. Our VA Hospital really is incredible, and we are so lucky to have it here, but it always gives me extra heartburn to think about the number of veterans who need our services each year. I hate it when I think about how many veterans need to stay in The Salvation Army Harbor House each year because they have nowhere else to go (and, at the same time, I am so happy that we are here to give them a warm, safe place to stay and otherwise do what we can to help them).

Another amazing resource is Welcome Home, a nonprofit that provides housing and myriad other services to veterans in need (really, this is one of the best veteran-focused charities in the country, started right here in Columbia). In addition, I think it is safe to say that all of Columbia’s poverty services organizations spend a significant amount of their effort serving veterans.

It is also worth mentioning that we have an awful lot of corporate citizens doing what they can for veterans. Veterans United is the one most folks will think of because they do so much and donate so much. There are many more who do what they can, year in and year out.

All of that said, while many of us are doing what we can to help veterans, we all need to find ways to do more. It hurts me that men and women who have served their country in wartime can not meet their basic needs. It hurts me that veterans are living on our streets.

National Donut Day has passed, but I hope we all take the opportunity to think about what more we can do to serve this incredibly important population.

Major Kevin Cedervall is a leader of The Salvation Army in Columbia. The Salvation Army provides a wide range of community services to address poverty and other issues, seeking to rebuild lives and create lasting change.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Columbia’s War on Poverty: Donuts and Veterans