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Thanksgiving service speaker urges community to open its heart to the less fortunate

Residents of Sunnyside and the Lower Valley community gathered for the annual Community Thanksgiving Service last night. Guest speaker Pastor Debbie Blehart of Sunrise Outreach Center in Yakima told those gathered there is much for which we can be thankful, but others are less fortunate.

"This is the time of year when we reflect on what God has done with us," she said, adding it is a time to gather with family and connect with those for whom we care.

However, there are 498 homeless in Sunnyside, according to the annual homeless census conducted in Yakima County. Blehart said those members of the community are without family, without a church and have little to reflect on.

"God instructs us in I John 3:16-18 to love those in need," she said, stating that is the purpose of Sunrise Outreach Center.

"If there is someone in need, we are commissioned to help...it's a natural by-product of God and our love for Him," said Blehart.

She said helping those in the community begins with a heart that is thankful.

"If every church in every community throughout the U.S. were to help, we would not need a welfare system," Blehart said, stating her church began helping the community of Yakima when it formed Sunrise Outreach Center, a non-profit organization that provides shelter, food and other services to those in need.

The organization has also gained support of various businesses throughout Yakima and Blehart said many lives have been saved from the streets through the effort.

The goal of the organization, she said, is to provide the homeless and impoverished with resources, counseling, job skills and support. The organization also provides meals for those who are unable to venture from their homes.

"The sandwich ministry and the team members involved delivers sandwiches and other necessities to those living on the streets, along the river and under bridges," shared Blehart of another program provided by Sunrise Outreach Center.

She said the testimonies of those assisted by the organization are "amazing." More than 180 community members helped by the organization were baptized this past year.

"If we treat others with respect and dignity they are more open to love," Blehart shared with those gathered for the Thanksgiving service.

"There is no limit to what God can do when we align ourselves for helping the lost, homeless, poor, abused and hungry," she stated, adding God has a purpose and a plan for the lives of everyone.

Those gathered at last night's service also enjoyed time in worship and praise. An offering to benefit services provided by the Sunnyside Ministerial Association was collected and more than $1,800 was donated to support its programs.

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