Veteran volunteers help make Auburn Community Thanksgiving gel

Gelatin dessert crew prepares more than 40 gallons of humble-but-colorful menu staple
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - It may not be the star of the show on Thanksgiving Day dinner plates but it still has a key role in support of the turkey and pumpkin pie.

We’re talking gelatin desserts folks, and they’re jiggling their colorful way onto Turkey Day menus throughout the land, including Auburn’s own Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

Jerri White Turtle has been volunteering with the community dinner at the Gold Country Fairgrounds for two decades and has taken on the good-natured title of “Jell-O Lady” for many of those years.

White Turtle and a team of volunteers arrived Wednesday at noon in the Auburn fairgrounds’ Sierra Buildings to cut fruit, boil water, cook the gelatin dessert in giant vats and then lug aluminum trays over to the facility’s fridge for cooling.

The gelatin dessert team is part of a small army of 300 volunteers that prepare and serve the annual dinner for hundreds and drive more meals to shut-ins.

The gelatin desserts, including some special recipes prepared earlier in the week by White Turtle, will be gracing the serving line Thursday and delivered to people throughout the area as part of the annual meal.

White Turtle said gelatin is an important part of the Thanksgiving dining experience for a lot of people.

“To me, it’s always something that complements a dish,” White Turtle said. “It’s not too sweet – like cranberry sauce is. And, as the slogan says, there’s always room for Jell-O.”

The prep crew was slicing fruit and opening cans methodically in preparation for mixing in with the cooling gelatin. Although there was a small crisis when the walnuts going into some of the recipes could not be found, White Turtle and her group soldiered on.

Dan Ziarkowski of Foresthill has taken on the job for many years of lifting the sloshing gelatin containers into the refrigerator, a role that takes strength, patience and a keen sense of balance.

“There are a lot of little and big things volunteers do,” Ziarkowski said.

And in a candid moment, Ziarkowski said that he’s working to help prepare a food he’s “not really a big fan of.”

“I like the fruit they put in it, though,” Ziarkowski said. “You do what needs to be done. And every year, (the gelatin) keeps getting consumed. So somebody likes it.”

In all, more than 40 gallons of gelatin dessert will be served Thursday at the dinner and through the Meals on Wheels program.

Sam White Turtle, Jerri’s husband and also a volunteer, said that it’s not just about serving a meal with all the trimmings.

It’s also about reaching out to community members – be they homeless or just not being able to prepare a feast at home – and sharing.

“If we want something we can go to the store and buy it,” he said. “We’re some of the lucky ones.”

Shirley Klasey, a 33-year Auburn resident, got to work chopping apples for one gelatin dish. She’ll prepare a Thanksgiving dinner at home on Thursday – but not before dropping off a second turkey she cooked at home for the community event.

Gelatin won’t be on the Klasey table at home though. In a nod to grandsons, she’s sticking with cranberry sauce instead of her cranberry Jell-O salad.

On Wednesday, Klasey was volunteering and helping others. Klasey said she called and asked to help at an event she’s volunteered for before.

“There but for the grace of God go I,” Klasey said. “And I think it’s a wonderful program.”


Community Thanksgiving Dinner

When: Noon to 2 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 22

Where: Placer Building, Gold Country Fairgrounds,  1273 High St., Auburn

Cost: Free

For meal delivery: Call (530) 888-1303

Donations: Make check payable to the Salvation Army and specify Thanksgiving Dinner, P.O. Box 4088, Auburn 95604

Outside of Auburn: For Thanksgiving meal delivery in Roseville, Rocklin, Penryn, Loomis, Lincoln and Granite Bay, call the Salvation Army at (916) 784-3382