Noe Valley Voice February 2007

Touched by Kim Family Tragedy, Neighbors Set Up Special Fund

By Heidi Anderson

Television crews and votive candles have disappeared from outside the tiny Church Street Apothecary, and life has returned to normal at the corner of Day and Church streets since the news of James Kim's death in Oregon in early December. But for newly widowed Randall Street resident Kati Kim and her two young daughters, life won't be back to normal for a long while--and neighbors touched by the family's plight want to help.

"The day we heard Kati and Sabine and Penelope were okay, there was such elation," recalls Paula Benton, owner of Artery studio on Church Street. But later, when the news came that James did not survive, Benton says she and many other Noe Valley residents felt overwhelming shock and sadness.

"We all hugged our loved ones a little tighter that day, and we asked ourselves, What can we do to help?"

Within a week, Benton, who is active in the merchants group Church Street Business, started talking to other neighborhood groups about setting up a fund that would be earmarked for Kati and her children.

Unexpected Misfortune on a Routine Trip Home

James and Kati Kim, who own stores in both Noe Valley and the Haight, had been traveling with their girls--Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 8 months--to visit friends in Seattle over Thanksgiving. They were driving home to San Francisco on Nov. 25, when they became snowbound on an Oregon Coast Range road that was supposed to be closed for the winter. Their cell phones were unable to complete calls for help. Four days later, search crews began looking for the Kims while friends and family in California mounted a campaign to aid in the search. James and Kati kept their children fed, used their car heater until they ran out of gas, and burned their car's tires.

After four more days, with hope of rescue fading, James set out on foot in the ice and snow, looking for help for his family. He died from hypothermia on his trek. After spending 10 days in the car, Kati and the girls were found in good condition on Dec. 4. James' body was found Dec. 6.

When the news hit home, neighbors and merchants held vigil for days outside the Kims' small pharmacy at 1767 Church Street. Flowers, children's books, and tiny flickering candles piled up alongside hundreds of handwritten poems and sympathy cards.

Money Starts to Flow

Determined to help the family in a lasting way, Benton established the Kim Family Fund on Dec. 21, at the Bank of America branch on 24th Street. (The fund is separate from the James Kim Memorial Fund created by James' colleagues at Cnet, where he worked as an editor and tech expert.)

The Kim Family Fund, which is cosponsored by 13 Noe Valley organizations, started off with the groups asking their membership for donations of $50 per person or family. The goal was 500 gifts of $50, for a total of $25,000.

Benton says 2,000 to 3,000 people were contacted by e-mail on the first week. In addition, flyers were put up on light poles and store windows throughout the neighborhood. The notices suggested that residents and merchants do what they could--from writing a check to the fund to shopping at the Kims' Noe Valley store, which has remained open.

As of Jan. 30, the fund had raised $9,000, and money was still pouring in. Benton says the fund has received donations in amounts ranging from $10 to $200.

"You know, it's the checks for $10 that touch me the deepest," says Benton, adding, "This is one of the ways Noe Valley creates the kind of community we want to live in."

Kati Kim 'Enormously Moved' by Noe's Generosity

Kati Kim, who has shied away from media attention since her ordeal, sent a short note to her Noe Valley neighbors through Benton.

"I give my heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of love and generosity from the Noe Valley community," she wrote. "I have been enormously moved by the kindness exhibited by both strangers and friends alike."

Benton says Kati is trying to gain some sense of normalcy while making the hard adjustment to single parenthood. Kati also is determined to keep her stores running, Benton says. (The Kims' store in the Haight, Doe, has stayed open, too.)

In her note, Kati Kim wrote that a share of the money donated to the Kim Family Fund would be set aside for college tuition for Penelope and Sabine. Another portion will go toward creating the James Kim Technology Fund, which will benefit technology programs in San Francisco's public schools.

"Having been a school teacher and being a public school supporter," Kim wrote, "I want children in addition to my own to benefit from Noe Valley's generosity."

Chefs Want to Do More

Once the Kim Family Fund gathered speed, more Noe Valley neighbors got their creative juices flowing. Incanto, the Italian restaurant on Church Street, offered to host an all-Noe food-lovers' feast, to raise even more money for the fund.

"When I got the e-mail asking for $50, I sent it right in," says Sanchez Street resident Jeremy Emmerson, who also is executive chef at Seasons, the restaurant within the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street. But later, as Emmerson talked it over with his wife, he realized he wanted to make a larger contribution.

"We don't have a lot of cash, but we can cook. I was thinking about it more as I was walking around Target. I just called Chris [Cosentino, head chef at Incanto] and asked if he thought a dinner benefit for Kati Kim was a good idea." Cosentino answered yes, and the dinner was on.

The event, dubbed "Chefs of Noe Valley: An Evening of Fine Dining to Benefit the Kim Family Fund," will be held on Monday, Feb. 26, and will take over Incanto, with owner Mark Pastore donating the services of his wait and kitchen staff. Several of Emmerson's staff members from Four Seasons will also volunteer their time.

The $175 per plate dinner hopes to raise $10,000.

Best Dishes on Parade

Emmerson says after he contacted a few other restaurants, everything just fell into place. The meal will be a "culinary collaboration" of Church Street restaurants' best fare, he says, and will feature five courses with wine.

Deep Sushi chef/owners Ray Tobias and Galvin Gaviola will be in charge of the first course. The second will be created by Eric Kuhne and Benny Cheung, chef/owners of Bistro 1689. The third course will be Pescheria owner Joseph Manzare's turn to shine, and will be followed by an entrée offered by Incanto's Chef Cosentino. The dessert will be made by Emmerson himself, and then petits-fours with coffee will be provided by Bridget Labus, pastry chef at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco (and a Noe Valley resident as well). Eric's Restaurant and Noe Valley Bakery will provide hors d'oeuvres and bread for the affair.

There are plans for a silent auction to follow the meal. Items up for bid include dinner for two at Jardiniere, a meal at Gary Denko, and brunch at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay.

While he's never met Kati Kim or her daughters, Emmerson has small children of his own (ages 3 and 7) and says he couldn't help but empathize with the newly single mother. "Once you've got kids, you look at the world in a different way," he says.

Emmerson says he's familiar with the hard work of creating fundraising events at kids' schools, but he was surprised when he started making the calls for this one.

"Everyone I called was so willing--this was one of the easiest things to come together," he says.

Reservations and payment arrangements for the Chefs of Noe Valley dinner can be made through Incanto Restaurant, 1550 Church Street, open at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday; or by calling 415-641-4500 or logging on to Seating at the Feb. 26 event will be 5:30 to 9 p.m.

Donations to the Kati Kim Family Fund can be sent to Kim Family Fund, c/o 4104 24th Street, #401, San Francisco, CA 94114. Online donations can be made using PayPal at