True story on helping the homeless is a family affair

mvoorhis@sierrastar.comDecember 23, 2013 

Nine months ago Jay and Lori Prentice were featured in the Sierra Star for their kindness in taking those in need into their home on a temporary basis. Among others, the couple gave up their bedroom to a woman so she would not have to spend another cold night sleeping in the back seat of her car.

The couple, who have three young children, Melanie, 11, Tim, 9, and Ginger, 7, have been assisting those in need for three years. It was the devastating loss of her parents home in Los Angeles to fire and the loss of her own home due to an unforeseen financial situation, that Lori realized how easy it can be for a family to suddenly find themselves homeless.

After discussing the idea with her family, the Prentice family opened their hearts and home to a family of four who had recently lost their home. Lori and Jay renovated their guest room and soon the family moved in.

"It was a magical experience for our family and was amazing," Lori said, adding that the experience was also uplifting by witnessing a family full of love even in their circumstances. "It broke the stereotype of homeless people," Lori said.

"Many people are escaping domestic abuse or situations where they've really fallen on hard times and that's the people we help."

Lori searches for homeless people, especially those with children, through her church, Sierra Presbyterian, and through Facebook posts. She has been very careful about who she selects to invite into their home — people who are earnestly looking for a job and only need to stay for a short time — those who need some help to get back on their feet. The selection process is difficult, sometimes taking a couple of days, or longer.

"I couldn't do it without Jay or the kids," Lori said. "And if they ever say they're uncomfortable, even without a reason, that's the end of it. But to me it seems they (children) have grown in ways they could not have without this experience."

With three young children of her own, Lori is very mindful of exactly who she brings in to share their home. Typically, these homeless are recommended by churches.

"Someone told me they knew of a homeless person who would be perfect," Lori said. "But before I brought this homeless person home, someone told me that this particular individual had tried to stab someone behind the laundromat. The person who made this referral was obviously looking out for his best interests — not my childrens."

This all began unexpectedly about three years ago, while Lori was busy preparing the typical Thanksgiving dinner.

"The smells of the turkey, the baked desserts filled the house," Lori recalled. "Out of the blue, I got this funny feeling — a strange sensation, really — that I didn't want this food. I shrugged it off and continued with the feast-making ... until that sensation washed over me again."

Unable to ignore the feeling a second time, Lori contacted her pastor, Paul DePledge to ask him if he knew of anyone who had no food. DePledge told her of a family of four, with two children, who were staying at an area motel with the assistance of the church.

It just so happened that the motel Lori delivered the Thanksgiving meal to was no more than 200 feet from where nine-year-old Kristopher Turner was murdered in 2004.

Lori took this as a sign. "I'm being called to do this outreach to the homeless," Lori said. "Kristopher, who was killed by a homeless man, reached out to the homeless, too, so the connection is strong and, quite frankly, jaw-dropping."

Lori admits this is no easy road she has chosen. The Prentice's have converted their old master bedroom into a guest room, complete with small kitchen, television, cable and WiFi. "We live in a little turmoil and chaos because to do this takes a lot of effort and energy."

Since the Prentice family began taking people into their home, they have helped about half a dozen people.

As a result of what she unofficially refers to as her homeless ministry, Lori has written a children's book on the topic — "The Best Dinner I Never Ate"— which was released on earlier this year.

In just 30 days, $14,000 was pledged to help with publication costs.

It is Lori's hope that the book will help raise awareness for the homeless.

About 2,500 books have been printed and released for distribution, and a couple of book signing events have already taken place. With Mackey's permission, Kristopher will also be in the book — as the angel hovering over Jesus, following his birth in the manger.

"Everyone has a heart for the homeless, but putting your money where your mouth is, well that's entirely a different thing," Lori added.

"Jesus was out in the cold — well so are our brothers and sisters. For the most part, the homeless are beautiful people who have hit a bad spot in life."

Book Reviews

"The Best Dinner I Never Ate is rooted in the DNA of a family who courageously opened up their home as well as their hearts, breaking down walls to help a family in need. Do not overlook the passion and conviction to serve as you read this book and be inspired by a real life story of love and service." Phil Allen Jr., Young Adult Pastor at Shepherd Church.

"Not your ordinary Christmas story — 'The Best Dinner I Never Ate' is a true account to be savored together with family and friends. Some of us have been sitting on things that could bless others, sleeping on things, eating things that we give a passing glance, but others would see as answers to prayer. Author Lori Prentice expresses her family's story in a moving way, sure to tug at your heart and engage readers from the young to those rich in years." Cynthia Ruchti, author and speaker.


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