Dedicated grandmother sends care packages to troops

Published 12:27 pm Saturday, January 11, 2014

Merle Monahan/Contributing Writer



IVOR—When Sonja Hardison’s grandson was stationed with the National Guard in Iraq, he told her that he had shared the cookies she sent to him with his buddies because they never received packages from home.

Hardison cried.

“We have to do something about that,” she told her husband, Claude. “Can you imagine how that feels?”

Hardison began doubling the size of the packages she sent to her grandson, Claude III. Still, she felt that wasn’t enough. So she began sending more packages, sometimes up to 10.

The dedicated grandmother still wasn’t satisfied. Hardison had begun to receive correspondence from some of the troops’ sergeants and even others higher up, as well as the servicemen’s families, thanking her for her mission and letting her know how welcome the packages were.

By now, she had been soliciting help from her church, local businesses and individuals. More people became involved, and in 2005, American Military Missions was born.

The mission is a faith-based, nondenominational, nonprofit organization, she added, which is completely operated by volunteers who all have a strong bond with the military.

That was nine years ago. Hardison said, “And we have not missed sending a shipment out to the troops a single month since we started.”

The packages reach troops stationed as far away as Afghanistan, Kosova and Kuwait, she said, adding that anyone who wants their serviceman’s name put on the list, need only to notify them.

Hardison and her husband live on a small farm just outside of Zuni. The mission is operated entirely from their home, in fact, from their one-car garage, she said.

“We store the donations here until it is time to pack the cartons. After we’ve packed from 15 to 20 boxes each month, all of which contain a letter naming who donated the contents, we mail them from the Zuni Post Office. Then we start all over again.”

She laughed. “Believe me, we’ve become professional packers—we’ve learned how to fill every crack and crevice in order to get more in the boxes.”

Hardison says donations are always welcome.

“We can use such things as snacks, toiletries, peanuts, homemade cookies, magazines, books, CDs, lip balm and wet wipes, to name a few.

The mission can also use monetary donations, which are tax deductible, mainly for postage. Hardison added that every donation received goes directly to the troops—there are no administrative costs.

About the hardest job she has during the operation is filling out paper work involved in shipping overseas, she revealed. Still, Hardison loves it and plans to continue as long as our troops are deployed.

“It makes me feel that I am contributing in some small way,” she said.

For those wishing to donate, contact Sonja Hardison, Director, American Military Missions, 20215 Clark Circle, Zuni, VA 23898. Call 242-4196 or e-mail

NAME: Sonja Susan Hardison.

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS AREA: My husband wanted to live in the country, so we bought some land in the Zuni area and moved here from Virginia Beach about 35 years ago. As a city girl, I had to adjust, but I love it here now and don’t ever want to move back to the city.

HOMETOWN: I was born in Fairmont, W. Va., and raised in Broad Creek Village, Norfolk. After marriage, we eventually settled in Virginia Beach.

OCCUPATION: Retired as a medical transcriptionist at Obici Hospital.

MARITAL STATUS: Married to Claude Allen Hardison since 1955. April 17 will be our 59th wedding anniversary.

CHILDREN, AGES AND SCHOOLS: Two sons. Claude Hardison Jr., 57, and wife, Beverly, and Clifton Hardison, 55. We have five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Claude Jr. went to VMI and ODU and now works as a welding instructor at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Cliff went to Julliard School of Music in New York and is now the principal percussionist at the Richmond Symphony.

FAVORITE NIGHT OUT ON THE TOWN: Claude and I enjoy eating out at the local restaurants.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Cazadores in Suffolk and PF Chang’s in Richmond.

FAVORITE MEAL AND BEVERAGE: Love limeade and ProZero water. Love all kinds of food, from southern soul food to Mexican, Italian and Chinese.

WHAT DO MOST PEOPLE NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU: I was a piano teacher for six years in Virginia Beach and held my recitals at Chrysler Hall. When I left, I had about 60 students and I still miss them.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT YOU: I love people and try to never judge others. I feel it is not my job to do that.

WHAT IS YOUR WORST HABIT: Procrastination and trying to multi-task. I need to concentrate on whatever task I am trying to accomplish.

FAVORITE HOBBIES: Reading and playing video games, when I have the time.

PET PEEVE: Rude people and people who use foul language.

FIRST JOB: I worked at Penney’s in the men’s department in Norfolk when I was 14. Before that, as one of seven children, I did my share of baby sitting and house cleaning.

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED: As a compassionate, kind person who helped others, especially our military. I hope the American Military Missions will continue when I am called home, sending love and support to our men and women who risk their lives daily to protect our country and our precious freedom.

IF YOU HAD 10 MINUTES ON NATIONAL TELEVISION, WHAT WOULD YOUR TOPIC BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY: I would talk about our military and our missions to support them. Time and time again – from their correspondence and their families – I am made aware of their homesickness and what they have to go through in lands thousands of miles away with danger all around. I also know that our men and women willingly go through this for our country, and say, “we’re just doing our job” when told that they’re our heroes. I am especially amazed at the young women barely in their 20s who are so brave. I could never have done this at their ages. We all need to honor and care for our servicemen and women. God bless each one of them. They deserve the best when they return home.