A Dollar Per Doughnut Per Day: One Man’s Vaccination Quest

Joe Caramagna, a man who searches “doughnuts near me” when he travels, had never lived a short walk from a doughnut shop. This was a problem.

But one morning in April, he took a walk near his home in Paramus, N.J., and spotted on a building, written in crisp red cursive script, a sign he never thought he would see less than a mile away. “Krispy Kreme,” it read.

The chain had recently announced that vaccinated people could get one free glazed doughnut a day until the end of the year. Mr. Caramagna had received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine a few days before.

“It was kismet,” he said.

Realizing the stars had aligned and popped him into the vacant center of his doughnut-obsessed world, he decided to channel his sweet cravings for a bigger purpose.

Mr. Caramagna, a comic book writer whose fans gift him doughnuts at conventions, set out on a mission that spring day: He would eat one free Krispy Kreme doughnut a day until the end of the year. For each doughnut devoured, he would donate a dollar to charity. He picked the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Piedmont Triad, a nonprofit organization that helps children access medical care and supports their families.

On a GoFundMe page where he has raised about $500, he says that beyond trying to encourage people to get vaccinated, he hopes others will “DOUGH-nate (har har)” to the Ronald McDonald House in Winston-Salem, N.C., the city where Krispy Kreme is based.

Mr. Caramagna, 45, is one of the thousands of people across the nation and around the world who have started their own small vaccine campaigns. They hope to persuade even a few people to get the shot, raise money for charities, or, if nothing else, offer their friends and neighbors a little cheer in a dark time.

Proponents of such vaccination campaigns include TikTok stars and the Biden administration. States have offered incentives like high-stakes lotteries, free beer and $100 payments. Though Mr. Caramagna said he didn’t believe many unvaccinated people had changed their mind just by watching him post photos of free doughnut No. 57 (glazed) or 73 (also glazed), he did hope at least to help a nonprofit through this “silly” and “dumb” endeavor.

“I don’t know if I’ve changed anyone’s mind on the vaccine, but I know I’ve certainly convinced people to go to Krispy Kreme,” he said. “To have a mission every day that no matter what, I have to go get the doughnut — I mean, it’s silly, but I feel like I’m doing something positive in this world that could probably use a little positivity.”

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Mr. Caramagna, a bearded, spectacled father of three with a self-deprecating sense of humor, originally set out to reach 125 free doughnuts by Dec. 31. But with four months still on the calendar, he’s already polished off more than 90 and now wants to see how many he can put away.

His Instagram page, where fans of his Marvel and Disney comics tag him frequently, is a collage of kooky doughnut knickknacks. There is the doughnut tree ornament, doughnut shirts, a doughnut mug, another doughnut mug and, of course, dozens of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

After seeing doughnut No. 5 (or 6) lying cold on the kitchen counter at home, his wife, Amy Caramagna, turned to him and said, “Oh, so this is what we're doing now?” The workers at the Krispy Kreme now recognize him, he said, making him feel “like a V.I.P.” when they hand him his doughnut in line, no questions asked. And his doctor recently told him he’s in good health, giving him dietary clearance for when the Krispy Kreme app notifies him that the doughnuts are “hot and fresh.”

One original glazed doughnut at Krispy Kreme is 190 calories. According to Mr. Caramagna’s Apple Watch, he burns 96 calories each way on his walk to retrieve the doughnut.

“So, I’m actually running a deficit,” he said. “But I don’t encourage other people to do this.”

Since March 22, Krispy Kreme has given away more than two million glazed doughnuts, said Casandra Williams, a spokeswoman for the company. Ms. Williams said Krispy Kreme was “all about sharing joy, and we love when our guests build upon our efforts to give back in their own way.”

Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

    • Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
    • Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
    • College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
    • Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.  
    • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
    • New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
    • At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

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