“Lover of souls” is tattooed on Cindy Bolden’s forearm. The words are visible when she volunteers at A Place at the Table, a downtown Raleigh café that serves all patrons regardless of their ability to pay, and when she’s working on community projects with Glenwood Gathering. Here Bolden shares why being a “connector of people” is so important to her.
Q: What is your role at A Place at the Table, which is coming up on its first anniversary and was recently featured on the “Today” show?
A: I’m the chair of a forum that brings together people who’ve had food insecurity, homelessness, poverty or have worked with that population. We’re able to provide some valuable input to A Place at the Table on café operations, how to build community and how to reach out to people to invite them to come into the café.
Q: You also volunteer there two days a week. How is the café doing?
A: We have been blessed; it’s been very successful. I credit so many people for that, particularly the community of Raleigh. We are a pay-it-forward kind of city. We started in January with a daily average of 80 to 200 diners, and 15 to 20 were meal volunteers. Today, I’d double those numbers. On any given day there are 30 to 40 people volunteering for their meal, and we must have between 200 and 400 diners a day. I simply show up to love all the people, greet the people and to sit at the community table with the people.
Q: What is Glenwood Gathering, and how did you form the group?
A: In May of 2016, we gathered people at the back patio tables at Raleigh Beer Garden. I literally put out a sign, “Come show up around the tables and let’s get to know each other.” I wondered if we could serve our community and create beauty. In January through March in 2017, we created 56 crocheted mats for refugees. Every mat had about 700 plastic grocery bags; we crafted those as a community. They were 2-by-6-foot sleeping mats for refugees coming into the Triangle. We calculated, and we probably took 45,000 grocery bags out of the landfill. We donated those mats to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. When many refugees come in, they are housed in temporary housing with no furniture. ... Many saw what we were doing and replicated it.
Q: What inspires you to get involved?
A: It speaks to the heart of who I am. You can put me anywhere — it doesn’t matter where it is — I am going to seek to bring people together in a community space and typically around a community table for conversation and table fellowship. I truly believe people hunger and thirst for connection. They long to be seen and heard, to belong. If there’s a way to be engaged in what I call “life-giving” activity, then I’m going to show up and be there. I do so love people and trying to bring them together.
Q: Gathering people around a table is a theme that repeats itself in your work. Why is that?
A: I’m a minister at heart and part of my calling is communion. I believe that we can all make a difference for good by connecting with our neighbor. For many of us, it can be in many places and ways; for me, it’s table fellowship. We all have that desire to connect. For whatever reason, I’m out there to be connecting each and every one of us. In that, we are all going to grow, love and be loved.
Q: Do you have a motto that you live by?
A: It’s important to me to try new things. Take initiative. If I had to encourage people to do something, just take a fateful risk; be an initiator. Say hello or smile to the person you see walking down the street — just the value in that alone. We’re so disconnected. The importance of being present with people is to take the time to meet others, sit and be with them and share stories. It’s just so life-changing for everyone involved — for me as much as for the person I’m at the table with. To listen but also to encourage people on their journey and to bring hope into that space. Whether it’s a cup of coffee or crocheting a mat or a snowflake, those are the ties that bind us.
Cindy Bolden — Tar Heel of the Week
Born: Sept. 26, 1962, in Wilmington, N.C.
Family: Married with two grown daughters
Education: Duke University; Campbell University Divinity School
Fun fact: She’s an ordained minister.