Gloria Kim did not see the carjacker coming.
On a recent morning just before 4 a.m., Kim was gathering bottles of water and kettles of homemade soup to load into her pickup truck to feed the homeless, as she does each day. She heard the rumble of an engine, turned around and saw a man sitting in the driver’s seat of her truck.
“No, no, no!” she shouted, running toward the man. She tried to open the door but he sped away.
“I prayed immediately,” said Kim, 65, a frail woman with white hair. “Lord, I don’t know about him. Forgive him. Let him repent.”
For 20 years, Kim has been feeding the homeless of Los Angeles, rising each day at 2 a.m. to cook vegetable soup and bundle bunches of bananas, grapes and bagels into plastic bags. She distributes the food to people living under bridges, in parking lots and on street corners. The homeless greet her with hugs and call her “Mama.” They pray together and sing “Amazing Grace.”
The April 30 carjacking was the latest snag for Kim’s one-woman mobile soup kitchen. In February, a white Ford van that Kim had used to distribute clothes and food was totaled in a car accident. Kim said she cannot use a third vehicle she owns, an old Dodge van, because it barely runs, a door is broken and it is not insured.
Now, she is relying on volunteers with vans to drive her around to MacArthur Park, Lafayette Park, Koreatown, Griffith Park and downtown.
On days when volunteers cannot help, Kim drives a Toyota station wagon she owns. But she said it is not big enough to carry her daily load: two boxes of bananas, seven gallons of water, 400 bagels, several pounds of grapes, a few bags of socks and other clothes, and enough soup to feed 200 people.
It is a lot of work each day, said Kim, who has cataracts and cannot drive too much on her own. But she said she is getting on with her mission.
“We’ve done this for many, many years,” Kim said Sunday morning before making her rounds with a volunteer who had offered his van for the day. “This never happened.”
Kim said she was shocked by the robbery, but figured “he might need a truck. Let him take it. Let him go.”
She filed a police report for the white 1998 Toyota pickup with the license plate 5R12164. So far, it has not been returned.
In 1976, Kim emigrated from South Korea, where she had helped a community of leprosy patients. She moved from Florida to Los Angeles with her mother in 1984. Two years later, they started a ministry, becoming familiar faces in the parks and alleys of the city.
When her mother died in 1990, Kim continued on her own. She runs the Zion Gospel Mission Church out of a building on Venice Boulevard that bears the inscription, “Come ye here the sick and brokenhearted.” It is there that Kim cooks, holds prayer services and allows homeless people to eat and take showers. She supports herself with the help of donations.
On Sunday, Kim hopped out of the van with a plastic bag filled with plums, bananas and bread, and a pair of new socks. She hurried toward a man sleeping in a parking lot off Blaine and 11th streets, near the Los Angeles Convention Center.
“Hi, brother!” she shouted, waking up Calvert Tillett, 52, who was sleeping beneath a piece of cardboard.
“Hey, Mama,” he said. “How you doing?”
“Someone stole my truck,” Kim said, handing him the bag of food and socks.
“Oh, no,” Tillett replied.
Kim knelt beside him and said a prayer to keep him safe.
“Her mother used to do this, too,” Tillett said. “She was an old lady. I remember.”
Then Tillett closed his eyes. He prayed for Kim, “Father God, give her strength to continue her work.”