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Donuts and Coffee: The Red Cross Canteen Service
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Red Cross
November 12, 2007

As America's World War II veterans gather this weekend to celebrate their achievements and reminisce about their military service, more than a few conversations will include fond words about Red Cross "doughnut dollies."

Doughnut dollies, so named because they served doughnuts and hot coffee to service men, were American women who wanted to do more than sit at a desk during the war effort. They wanted to be where the action was.

Designated by the War Department to build and maintain troop morale overseas, the Red Cross quickly launched a nationwide recruiting campaign for recreation workers. The women had to be college graduates and 25 years or older. One such woman was Barbara Pathe, who was working with the New York State Medical Society when she heard about the American Red Cross program to support the war effort.

"My eyesight was not good enough to get into the (military) service," she says, "but when I heard about the Able Body Recreation Program, I said, 'That's what I want to do!'"

Although the doughnut dollies brought a touch of home and offered a shoulder to lean on, they experienced many of the same hardships as the soldiers they served. James Madison, in his book "Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys," described the life of the doughnut dollies in these words:

"Red Cross clubmobile women learned about war's hardships not only by listening to the GIs but also by experiencing it themselves. These women suffered cold and rain, days without baths, bone-jarring jeep rides, and shortages of food. Despite the long days, they seldom whined. In fact, they worked hard to make what they did look so simple: the Clubmobile pulled up at a tent camp and soon there was a hot cup of coffee, a fresh American doughnut, a smile, a flash of lipstick, and a cheery 'Hello, soldier, where you from?'"

For more information about the doughnut dollies and Red Cross military services during World War II, please see the following:

As part of the world's largest humanitarian network, the American Red Cross alleviates the suffering of victims of war, disaster and other international crises, and works with other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to improve chronic, life-threatening conditions in developing nations. We reconnect families separated by emergencies and educate the American public about international humanitarian law. This assistance is made possible through the generosity of the American public.

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