Preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal for a crowd proved to be just as rewarding as Donna Orkin hoped.
Ensuring that the participants of Meals on Wheels that members of Beth Israel Congregation take care of enjoyed turkey and dressing and all the trimmings lifted her spirits and made her feel like herself once again.
“I wanted to work back into volunteer work because after having surgery I’ve been self-centered,” said Orkin, a Jackson resident who served two terms on the board of Stewpot Community Services. “One of the things that makes me feel good is to help others. I just wanted to see if I could do it again.”
Orkin halted her 10 years of involvement with Meals on Wheels in August 2020 due to issues with her back. Last March, she had a double spinal fusion and an operation to place a 10-inch rod in her spine to combat scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine.
Besides the physical challenge of shopping and preparing the meal, Orkin, who has a degree in accounting, came up with another test: To buy everything for a Thanksgiving feast that would serve 14-15 adults as economically as possible, using a donated $75 Kroger gift card.
Orkin assumed the turkey would be the most expensive part of the meal, so she considered several options after grocery stores seemed slow in stocking frozen turkeys.
“I did do a little research on the turkey,” Orkin said. “I thought about the option of just buying already roasted turkey from the deli and getting them to slice it thicker, but turkey breast runs about $9 a pound and a pound would have yielded only four servings. That was going to be really expensive.”
She purchased two oven ready boneless turkey breasts that were each packaged in a cooking bag and are already seasoned and include gravy mix to which the drippings can be added.
“Those cost $9.99 each,” Orkin said. “Each one had 2.75 pounds of boneless turkey meat, which was plenty of meat.”
Three boxes of store brand stuffing mix served as the base for dressing to which she added chicken broth and threw in some onion and celery to brighten it.
Sweet potato casserole began with canned sweet potatoes cooked in syrup.
“I drained a lot of the syrup out but leaving a little bit of the syrup means you don’t have to add as much sugar,” she said. “I added some vanilla flavoring, some eggs and butter and a little salt and made a topping with chopped pecans, melted butter and brown sugar and flour.
It makes a casserole that tastes like pecan pie on top of sweet potato pie.”
Orkin decided to use a $1.99 box of instant potatoes that contained 20 servings to prepare mashed potatoes, adding milk and butter. “I had seen where Dr. Oz had discussed the value of using instant items,” she said.
She took an institutional size can of green beans, drained the liquid from it and added chopped onion and brown sugar and cooked it in a crockpot. It’s a recipe she gleaned from attending the Terry Depot Dinner Theater.
Cranberry sauce from a can, rolls, fresh apples and a brownie baked by another member of Beth Israel Congregation completed the holiday meal, the bulk of which was packaged in Styrofoam takeout containers with separate smaller ones for the sweet potato casserole.
Orkin, who spread the work out, said she was proud of what she’d done.
“I will tell you I was tired, but I felt like I showed myself I can do this,” she said. “I’ve got to develop my stamina again. I’ve always entertained a lot and welcomed people into my home.”
Orkin met the gift card challenge she set for herself: She spent a total of $64.33, leaving $10.67 on the card that could be used for another occasion when Beth Israel provides for Meals on Wheels.
Charna Schlakman heads Beth Israel’s Meals on Wheels efforts, which rely on members to cook and package meals and deliver them to residents in several neighborhoods in Jackson. Members also donate funds to pay for foods used to prepare them.
“Some of my non-Jewish friends are part of it,” Schlakman said. “They enjoy it, too.”
Beth Israel delivers Meals on Wheels on the first Tuesday and the Friday of the month after the first Sunday of the month. The congregation shares the responsibility for the week with other groups, including Galloway Methodist Church and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral.
Schlakman said she considers all the meals, which are meant to be large enough for two meals, delivered special.
“We put a lot of heart and soul into it,” she said. “We do not serve pork products or shellfish because we try to follow somewhat the Jewish dietary rules.”
There’s a likelihood that the Meals on Wheels recipients might receive more than one Thanksgiving meal but that’s OK, Orkin said.
“Everybody loves Thanksgiving food,” she said. “and everybody has their favorite recipe.”
Orkin plans to prepare another Thanksgiving meal for her husband, Ted, and their oldest son, Stan, and his wife, Noami and their two children, William and Teddy, who will be visiting from Atlanta. The Orkins’ son, Jeffrey, and his wife, Julia, and their son, Weston, will be in Nashville with his family and their son, Kevin, and his wife, Jenny, and their son, Warren, will be overseas in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia where he serves as a diplomat.
Orkin is already ahead of the Thanksgiving game: She has Spinach Madeline and sweet potato casserole tucked away in the freezer.
On Thanksgiving Day, the Orkin family plans to watch a parade on TV and then head to Mississippi State University, which is where Stan and Jeffrey Orkin earned degrees, and attend the Egg Bowl. “We’ll have turkey sandwiches before we head to the ball game,” she said.