Zuni group sends items to U.S. soldiers

Published 11:07 am Saturday, February 5, 2011

American Military Missions team members are, from left, Claude Hardison, Sonja Hardison, Connie Roddy and James Franklin Stephenson. -- Merle Monahan | Tidewater News


ZUNI—When Sonja Hardison was sending packages to her grandson, who was deployed with the U.S. Army National Guard in Iraq nearly six years ago, she had no idea her gesture would turn into an organization that today reaches U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Kuwait, as well as Iraq.

“It started when my grandson Allen told me that some of his fellow soldiers never received packages from home, so he shared his with them,” said Hardison.

“It broke my heart,” she continued. “My husband, Claude, and I decided that we had to do something. So we decided to start sending packages to other servicemen.”

Sonja Hardison shows a package of toiletries and books packaged to be sent to orphanages in Iraq and Afghanistan. -- Merle Monahan | Tidewater News

Hardison has asked for help from her church and solicited donations from the community, including businesses. One of the first to respond was Smithfield Station, which donated 300 home-baked cookies.

Since then, donations have come from Presbyterian Homes in Zuni, Virginia Diner in Wakefield, and Crocker Brothers Farms in Isle of Wight County, to name a few.

“To show how our supporters work together, Crocker Brothers donated 50 pounds of raw peanuts,” Hardison said. “We couldn’t send them raw, so Zuni Presbyterian Homes cooked them for us.”

“We collected the items ourselves and packed everything in our garage,” she added.

That’s how American Military Missions, a faith-based, nondenominational organization dedicated to supporting U.S. troops, was formed. The non-profit is operated by six volunteers, all of whom have strong ties to the military. They were either in the service or have family who served.

Hardison is the director. Along with her husband, other volunteers are Connie Roddy, James Franklin Stephenson, Sarah Crowder and Fred Barb. They collect donations, pack them in the Hardisons’ garage, and go to the Zuni post office for shipping.

Packages are mailed monthly and include toiletries, snacks, books, magazines, CDs, Virginia peanuts, homemade cookies and toys that soldiers can give to children.

Hardison said the troops are sometimes involved in humanitarian projects, such as helping a school get started or helping an orphanage.

“In fact, part of our mission sends items every three to four months especially for the orphanages,” she said.

Each package contains a letter telling the recipient who donated the items and lets them know that they honor, support and pray for the soldier.

“The soldiers do appreciate the packages,” Hardison said. “I have received letters from so many thanking us for just remembering them. Sometimes they send pictures of the soldiers sharing the contents of a package.”

“Then, I received one letter from the wife of a serviceman, who was deployed, asking me to put her husband’s name on our mailing list,” she continued.

Hardison said the group welcomes additional names.

The mission troupe is grateful for all donations, said Claude Hardison.

“Every donation that we receive goes directly to the troops,” he said. “There are no administrative costs.”

He said donations of both items and money are needed, adding that postage is the biggest expense.

“If you have items to donate, let us know and we’ll pick it up at your convenience,” he added.

Monetary donations, which are tax-deductible, may be mailed to Farmers Bank, P.O. Box 285, Windsor, Va., 23487, or to Sonja Hardison, 20215 Clark Circle, Zuni, Va., 23898. Make checks payable to American Military Missions.