Betty Taylor puts a trial-sized basic necessity item into a plastic tube she will turn into a lei for the homeless. Her effort has turned into a full-time campaign involving many community organizations. Jessica Keller, the Mirror

Citizen of the Month: Local woman’s hobby turns into effort to help the homeless

Federal Way’s Betty Taylor describes herself as a community advocate, but the longtime resident has most recently made a name for herself making leis filled with basic necessities for the homeless.

The front area of her small apartment is filled with red baskets, each filled with items homeless people may not have: toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, lotion, razors, deodorant, hand sanitizer and more.

Her activities stem from a desire to help people.

“Basically, it’s all about the people, meeting the needs of the people,” Taylor, the Mirror’s March Citizen of the Month, said.

Her advocacy started when she was raising her grandson, who was born with special needs. Having a grandson with a disability meant Taylor had to learn about the services available to him and push for him to receive them.

“You have to fight for services because they’re not given freely,” she said. “So, in doing that, you learn to be an advocate. You learn to be smart.”

Most of her knowledge came from joining different support groups.

“As a grandparent raising a child with a disability, you do need help,” she said, adding the more she navigated the system, the more she realized she needed help.

And the more she learned, the more she could share with others.

“I became an advocate for him, and then I’d run into other people with problems and I began to advocate for them,” Taylor said.

Her latest endeavor, however, leis for the homeless initially started as something else. In her spare time, Taylor makes leis of candy and other items that she sells to people for graduation. One day, however, a social worker asked her if, instead of making a lei of candy, if she would make a lei of basic necessities for the homeless. She created five leis and gave them to the social worker, but she started thinking about the homeless and taking her leis to the community. Soon, a new mission was started.

With community and City Council support, she began collecting donations of items for her leis. What was supposed to be a project just for the month of December soon grew, however.

“Now that I’m doing it, I just can’t stop,” she said. “I just love it.”

The leis, Taylor said, are convenient. The tubes are filled with eight to 13 items useful to homeless people, and they are convenient for them as well because they can be worn around the neck.

After making the first set of leis, which were taken to the men’s and women’s shelters in town, she began to ask other service organizations if they would distribute leis, as well. Then different groups got involved by collecting and donating items or money, which she uses to purchase more supplies at the dollar store. In addition to donations, organizations also started hosting parties to make leis.

“And it’s still evolving,” Taylor said, adding she has donation and lei gatherings lined up the next few months. “I just have to keep going with the wheel because there is a real need for it.”

She also created a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Leis-for-the-Homeless-Project-341506006219249/, which not only announces future lei events, but also tells people how to donate and shows where the donations are going.

“For me, it’s about letting people know exactly what’s going on,” she said. “It’s important that people know where their donations are going. If you’re going to do something, do it with integrity and honesty.”

While someone recently told her she had started a movement with her leis, Taylor said she never set out to do that. Like with her advocacy work, she just wanted to help those in need. As well, the leis are simple to make. She purchases plastic tubing with her own money and fills them with the different trial-sized items. She has a crimper that binds the tubing ends together, and when she finishes one she ties ribbon in between the items to make them special.

“It’s easy, and it doesn’t take long to put them together,” she said. “If you have the right material you can put them together watching TV.”

Taylor said community donations are vital to her efforts, and toothbrushes and toothpaste are always in demand. So far, however, the community has answered her call.

“It’s just so awesome to see the generosity of others,” Taylor said. “The people are just so involved. I love the people. I love the community. People are just so giving and caring.”

To learn how to donate or to contact Taylor, message her at her Facebook page. Taylor said a permanent donation drop box is now at City Hall.

To nominate a Citizen of the Month, email your name, contact information and why you believe the Mirror should choose your nominee to editor@fedwaymirror.com.