Written by Staff Writer
How would you react to an uncomfortable life-altering choice? For one Tulsan, it was a test of character and a call to action.
Fifteen years ago, Kelly Swan was approached by a man whose condition was painfully clear. He was dirty, disheveled and said he’d been eating from dumpsters.
Yes, Roy was homeless. Doing something about it is another matter altogether. That’s the hard part.
Roy asked Kelly point blank for help, confronting him with the proverbial fork in the road that impacted his life ever since.
“My gut reaction was to walk away,” Kelly admits. “And that’s exactly what I did.”
“But I had a serious challenge in my heart. I had been praying for God to use my life to help someone,” Kelly recounts.
“Doing nothing was the easy choice, but I knew I’d regret it. So I chose the tougher road. I retraced my steps, found Roy a few blocks back and apologized.”
Kelly talked with Roy for 15 minutes. He shook his hand, learned about his life, prayed with him and took care of his lunch.
The rest is history, or shall we say history in the making. Colossians 4:5 challenges believers to “make the most of every opportunity.”
So after the encounter, Kelly and his friends formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit called Filling The Void to feed and minister to the homeless and needy.
It’s an all-volunteer army that has attracted more than 1,500 helpers over the years. The ministry is heavily active in Tulsa, Denver, Dallas and Houston.
The need here still looms large. Despite successful housing programs, homelessness in Tulsa increased 7 percent over the past decade according to 2018 statistics from the Community Service Council.
“There’s always going to be desperate situations and trauma that turns lives upside down,” Kelly said. “But we bring a message of healing and redemption everywhere we go.”
In 2018, Filling The Void’s volunteers served more than 19,000 sack lunches across their four core cities and prayed with 6,000 people.
All told, they’ve served 150,000 meals since Roy. The annual budget is now up to $100,000 for 2019.
The sack lunches are first-rate. We’re not talking about bologna sandwiches or PB&J. Filling The Void primarily serves Arby’s or Chick-fil-A.
Each bag also contains an envelope. There’s no money inside. Think something greater – devotionals with scripture that are designed to give hope. The organization has written hundreds of versions.
“We feed the soul. It’s a two-fold mission – addressing physical hunger and the emptiness in a person’s heart. People need to know their lives have purpose and meaning in Christ,” Kelly said.
Filling The Void has won two national awards for public service. They’re known for their personalized approach, taking interactions beyond a surface level and working in conjunction with other agencies.
In 2011, Tulsa philanthropist Henry Zarrow penned a letter to Filling The Void thanking them for pitching in at the Day Center for the Homeless.
“We’re one part of the recovery process that spans from A to Z. Our sweet spot is in front of door A. The people we serve trust us because they know we’re genuine and we’ve been here for years,” Kelly says.
“We learn names. We build relationships through repeated interactions. Then we can speak truth into their lives and point them to places for other help,” Kelly added.
Teams from Filling The Void hit the streets 223 times in 2018. Each outreach lasts about an hour. There are seven ways to get involved. You can see details and donate online at fillingthevoid.com.
“It’s a labor of love in every sense. There’s plenty of labor but we do it because God loves people,” Kelly said. “We’re purposefully working to facilitate lasting life-change.”
When asked to give our readers advice, Kelly said this: “Don’t wait until December to start serving. Nonprofits all over town need your help right now.”