Federal Way Mirror Hometown Hero of the Year: Kae Lee

Kae Lee is the manager of the Federal Way Senior Center Food Bank.

Every community has Hometown Heroes. It could be your neighbor, a well-known activist in the city or the stranger you witnessed perform a random act of kindness.

The point is, Hometown Heroes are integral parts our Federal Way’s community fabric. We need their good deeds to keep our community tied together. And to remind us of the good in humanity.

Each month, the Mirror honors a person or a group of people as our Hometown Hero. In 2021, we highlighted over a dozen incredible people for their dedicated service to Federal Way, though their contributions often go thankless or unrecognized.

Each nominee from the past year deserves recognition

The Federal Way Mirror Hometown Hero is Kae Lee, manager of the Federal Way Senior Center Food Bank.

Six days a week, 68-year-old Lee bustles around the Federal Way Senior Center Food Bank. Her small stature, kind heart, and warm brown eyes give way to a powerful voice and speedy pace.

The FWSC Food Bank (4016 S. 352nd Street in Auburn) grew from the ground up with a handful of volunteers in 2011. Lee, who retired from her previous career with the Simpson Pulp and Paper Mill in Tacoma in 2017, began volunteering as a technology tutor at the senior center. She became the director of the food bank in June 2019.

Lee was honored as The Mirror’s Hometown Hero in April 2021.

“I love to help people. That’s what keeps me going,” Lee previously told The Mirror. She said helping people is “the right thing to do,” and hopes that if she was ever in need, people would be kind enough to lend a hand.

Lee volunteers approximately 30 hours a week, scheduling volunteer drivers to pick up food from grocery stores and organizing teams to sort and pack donations in preparation of the weekly drive-thru style food bank distributions. She directs and supervises approximately 60 volunteers, along with accounting, tracking, inputting and recording Federal Way Senior Center Food Bank data.

“I look at this place as: we own this all together,” Lee said. “There’s no way this place can run with just one person.”

In 2020, about 9,000 households (or 37,000 individuals) were served by the food bank. In 2019, the food bank served 4,500 households and 17,000 individuals.

“We appreciate all the time she donates, her dedication, leadership, hard work, knowledge and expertise,” said Shelley Puariea, executive director of the food bank.

Hometown Heroes of 2021

January: Larry Jones and his family, donating to the Tacoma Rescue Mission.

February: Cristian Perez, Koltin Carpenter, Tevita Kata and Ryan Hatch, who shoveled snow for people in need during a snowstorm.

March: Laird Thornton, the late Federal Way Chorale director and beloved music educator.

April: Kae Lee, Federal Way Senior Center Food Bank

May: Corporal Grant Bassett, the Federal Way Police Department’s 2020 Officer of the Year.

June: Kurt Lauer and Jeff Soltez, retired principals from Federal Way Public Schools.

July: Adé Ariwoola, former finance director who retired after a 35-year career.

August: Mireille Ignacio, the first honorary team captain of the Seattle Seahawks.

September: Richard and Elinor Shenk, recipients of the Aller Humanitarian Award.

October: Hank Lazzar, longtime Federal Way Food Bank volunteer.

November: Dawn Clinton, Meals on Wheels volunteer.

December: Jaime Monje, manager of the Azteca Restaurant in Federal Way.

Kae Lee, fourth from left, stands for a photo with volunteers at the food bank on April 29, 2021. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Kae Lee, fourth from left, stands for a photo with volunteers at the food bank on April 29, 2021. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror