The Neshoba Central Navy JROTC is collecting toys this year in their first Toys For Tots campaign.
The Neshoba Central Navy JROTC is collecting toys this year in their first Toys For Tots campaign.

If you ask Neshoba Central’s Navy JROTC Senior Naval Science Instructor Regan Kieff what’s it like working with a group of students who are born and raised saying “yes, Sir,” he’ll tell you “it’s a breath of fresh air because you don’t see that everywhere you go.” In Neshoba County, it won’t be difficult to see the Cadets’ discipline and respect within the community this holiday season.

Neshoba Central’s Navy JROTC is in the process of completing their first Toys for Tots campaign. While the program has been conducted in Meridian and other nearby areas, this year marks the first time it has been attempted at the school. It appears to be a major success.

The students have collected over $1000 from the community residents and businesses as well as more than 200 toys directly from citizen donors. At a recent Neshoba Central football game, the Cadets collected toys in their dress blues, and Gerrett Isaac remembers it well. “So many toys were brought, we had to carry a whole table and barrel,” said the Cadet.

Toys for Tots has handed out over 300 million toys to less fortunate youth in its 60-plus years of existence. The lesson for the NJROTC kids, according to Kieff is, “they know the value of citizenship and service to the community, and that’s the lesson. After learning that there are more children, “that don’t have things that we were fortunate to have,” Cadet Sierra Holley values how much this year’s successful campaign will help develop positive memories for local children. 

With record enrollment at 114 students, the Neshoba Central Navy JROTC is an active crew. Throughout the school year, the cadets receive community service ribbons for three major initiatives: Diamond Dreams volunteering, Toys for Tots and Operation Stock the Pantry. The cadets also spend time at the local nursing homes and adult daycares, visiting with residents and helping serve meals. They’ve even helped in the local Ellis Theatre renovations, removing old seats and preparing for the new furnishings.

While the program is not intended by its instructors as an extension of military recruitment, it does have lasting benefit to students who chose to enlist. For example, anyone familiar with the yellow feet markings on the pavement that one first encounters stepping off a bootcamp bus, those same feet can be found on the floor of NJROTC classroom. Fundamental pushups, situps and running are part of the physical training within the curriculum, and common service vocabulary is also taught. “The community service is a good piece that builds responsibility, but everything in our program will certainly prepare them,” says Kieff.

The Toys for Tots collection will end on December 16th, at which point the Cadets will deliver the toys to Elementary School Counselors who will then facilitate distribution to recipients. 

All of the physical training, service work and a busy end of the semester schedule work up some pretty good appetites for a demographic known to put away some serious holiday dishes. Here are a few holiday favorites from the Cadets.

Gerrett Isaac (16)  suggests Christmas Cookies:


2 cups butter

1 cup powdered sugar

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla

food coloring optional


Preheat oven to 300°F.

Cream butter and vanilla in a bowl until fluffy.

Add flour, powdered sugar and cornstarch a little at a time mixing. If using a hand mixer, you may need to knead a bit once mixed to get a smooth consistency.

If using food coloring, divide dough into and knead in a few drops of coloring to reach desired color.

Roll into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (not a non-stick cookie sheet).  Flatten with a fork, a meat tenderizer or the bottom of a pretty glass. Top with sprinkles if desired.

Bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely and let sit at least 24 hours before serving.

Matthew Pecoraro (16) enjoys the 

holidays more with Peanut Butter Cornflake Cookies


6 cups cornflakes cereal

1 cup sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup creamy peanut butter, (you could use chunky too)

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil


Line two baking sheets with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Set aside

Pour cornflakes into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, stir together sugar and corn syrup until combined. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Do NOT boil. (the mixture will look white because of tiny bubbles. Lift some of the syrup up with a spoon to see if sugar is dissolved.)

Remove saucepan from heat and stir in peanut butter until evenly combined. Pour peanut butter mixture over cornflakes and mix until completely coated.

Drop heaping tablespoons of cornflake mixture onto prepared baking sheets. (I like to form them into little piles with my fingers if needed.) Let cookies rest for 30 minutes to set up.

To a microwave safe bowl, add chocolate and oil. Microwave for 30 seconds and then stir the chocolate. If needed, microwave for another 30 seconds and stir until chocolate is smooth.*

Drizzle chocolate over cookies. Let rest for another 15 minutes for the chocolate to set. (I like to refrigerate the cookies.) Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container until ready to serve.


If your chocolate doesn't run off the spoon smoothly, add another 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil and stir until it's mixed in. This should thin the chocolate enough to let is drizzle. Do NOT add water or milk!

Recipe yield varies on how big you make your cookies. Don't be shy when portioning, there's plenty of the cornflake mix.

Damien Clark (16) prefers Canadian Chicken and Dumplings 

Stew Ingredients

 6 strips bacon , chopped

 2 teaspoons olive oil

 1 pkg cremini mushrooms , quartered
 boneless skinless chicken thighs

 2 onions , chopped

 3 carrots , chopped

 3 ribs celery , chopped

 3 cloves garlic , minced

 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

 4 cups sodium-reduced chicken broth

 1 cup dry white wine

 yellow-fleshed potatoes , peeled and cubed

 1 bay leaf

 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

 1/2 teaspoon dried savory

 1/2 teaspoon pepper

 1/4 teaspoon salt

 1 cup frozen peas

 2/3 cups whipping cream 

 1/2 cup frozen corn

 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Dumplings Ingredients

 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

 2 tablespoons each chopped fresh parsley and fresh chives

 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

 1 teaspoon baking powder

 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

 1/4 teaspoon salt

 2 tablespoons cold butter , cubed

 2/3 cups buttermilk


Stew: In Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to bowl. Set aside.

In small bowl, reserve 3 tbsp of fat from pan (add olive oil if needed to make 3 tbsp). Discard any remaining fat. Set aside. In same pan, heat oil over medium heat; cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add to bowl with bacon.

In same pan, heat half of the reserved fat over medium heat; working in batches, cook chicken, turning once, until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to separate bowl. Add 2 tbsp water to pan, scraping up browned bits. Scrape into bowl with chicken. Set aside.

In same pan, heat remaining reserved fat over medium heat; cook onions, carrots and celery, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in flour; cook, stirring often, until light golden, about 2 minutes.

Stir in broth and wine until smooth. Add potatoes, bay leaf, marjoram, savory, pepper and salt.

Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pan; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Transfer chicken to cutting board. Using 2 forks, shred chicken into bite-size pieces. Return to pan. Stir in mushroom mixture, peas, cream, corn and parsley; bring to simmer.

Dumplings: While stew is simmering, in bowl, whisk together flour, parsley, chives, thyme, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs with a few larger pieces. Stir in buttermilk to form sticky dough.

On large sheet of parchment paper, roll out dough into 7-inch long log; cut crosswise into 8 generous 3/4-inch thick rounds, reshaping if necessary. Add to stew; cook, covered and without lifting lid, until dumplings are no longer doughy underneath, about 15 minutes.

Jackson Stroud (15) educated in the squad on a new dish called Spagagna (Spaghetti+Lasagna=Spagagna)


1 (24 oz) Jar of your favorite Spaghetti Sauce

1 (24 oz.) Jar Garlic Alfredo Sauce

1 lb. spaghetti noodles

1 pound of ground beef

2 cups shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup milk (2% or higher)

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried parsley


Cook spaghetti noodles according to package directions. Drain noodles very well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Spray 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, combine alfredo sauce, mozzarella, milk, oregano and parsley. Stir well to combine. Add cooked and drained spaghetti noodles and toss to coat them completely.

Place entire mixture into baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes. While it cooks, start browning your ground beef in a medium sauce pan. Once beef is brown and crumbled, drain well to remove excess grease. Over low heat add spaghetti sauce and mix. Put cover over sauce pan and allow the mixture to keep warm until pasta is ready. After pasta is finished cooking, remove foil and allow to cool for 8-10 minutes.

And, finally, Sierra Holley (16) suggests the very easy to make and enjoyable Oreo Balls to 

complete your 

holiday snacking:


38 Oreo cookies

8 oz cream cheese at room temperature

1 cup chocolate melting wafers or candy coating

1 cup white chocolate melting wafers or candy coating

For decorating: melted chocolate, Oreo crumbs, sprinkles, crushed peppermint, or chopped nuts, if desired


Place Oreo cookies in a food processor. Pulse until they are fine cookie crumbs. 

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until it is smooth, about 1 minute. Add the Oreo cookie crumbs and mix until well combined. 

Roll the Oreo mixture into small balls and place on a baking sheet or tray that has been lined with parchment paper or wax paper. Freeze the Oreo balls for 15 minutes. 

Place the chocolate wafers (or candy coating) in a small microwave safe bowl. Place the white chocolate wafers (or candy coating) in a separate small microwave safe bowl. Melt according to instructions on packaging. Decorate with a drizzle of chocolate, additional crushed Oreos, sprinkles, crushed peppermint or crushed nuts, if desired. 

Place the baking sheet with the Oreo balls in the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour.