Run Local Spotlight: Cindy Camille and Open Table Ministry

Cindy after finishing her first marathon: Tobacco Road 2015

Have you ever wondered what happens to all those old running shoes you donate to Bull City Running Co. when you’re done with them? Some of them are shipped overseas and used to stimulate emerging economies in African countries through an organization called the MORE Foundation. But many others benefit Durham’s own homeless community through a local non-profit called Open Table Ministry, thanks to an especially awesome volunteer named Cindy Camille.

We’ve gotten to know Cindy quite well over the course of the past year or so, thanks to her more-or-less weekly visits to the store to sort through our shoe donation bin. We think the work that Open Table Ministry does, and Cindy’s role in it, is very cool, so we asked her if she could sit down with us and tell us the story of what happens to your shoe donations once they leave the store. She was kind enough to explain it to us over coffee at Bean Traders and give us a VIP tour of Open Table Ministry’s headquarters and their free store, where many of our donated shoes end up. Read on to find out more about what we learned from the time we spent with Cindy.

Cindy’s Story

Cindy worked as a nurse practitioner in the Duke Hospital System until she retired in July of 2018. After taking a little down time to transition out of working life, she began to seek out volunteer opportunities in her community. In the fall of 2018, she began volunteer work for Open Table Ministry, and immediately took note of their need for shoes for the population they serve.

Cindy identifies as an occasional recreational runner and a Bull City Running Co. customer, and, pondering OTM’s need for shoes, she had the epiphany that our store could be a resource for boosting the organization’s footwear inventory. And that is when Cindy’s weekly pilgrimages to our shoe donation bin began!

Just over a year later, 412 pairs of donated running shoes (and counting!) from BCRC have found their way to Open Table Ministry’s free store and onto the feet of people in need in our local community, thanks to Cindy and her innovative thinking!

Cindy and OTM client Paula. Paula is sporting a new pair of shoes from the free store that came for BCRC! (She also just got a fresh new haircut, courtesy of OTM!) Cindy said that she was thrilled with her new shoes, and exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting 5 years for a pair of shoes like these!”

Open Table Ministry’s Background

Now let’s learn little more about Open Table Ministry and how they serve our community. OTM was incorporated in 2010 by Duke Divinity School students. It started as a lunch service for homeless people and evolved into a free store that provides all sorts of necessities ranging from tents, sleeping bags, winter coats, and other clothing needs to toiletries and hygiene products.

OTM’s free store is located in Trinity Methodist Church, and customers can shop there once each month. The free store does require that customers present an ID at each visit for the purpose of shopper tracking. The store’s tracking system allows shoppers to purchase up to two coats and six pairs of shoes per year.

Open Table Ministry does have some budget available for purchasing clothing to stock the free store, and they are on the receiving end of some generous donations from local apparel companies as well; but these funds and contributions do not include shoes. Your donations are important, and need is particularly great during colder weather and the holiday season! Please consider this meaningful opportunity to give back to your community as you plan your holiday good will doing this year!

Got Shoes to Donate? Please Follow These Best Practices:

  • Laces and Sock Liner Inserts – Please make sure your shoe donations have both these things. It’s ok if they aren’t the ones that came with shoes originally, but they will be much stronger candidates to find new homes with folks who need them with laces and liners. *Pro tip: Tie your shoes’ laces together before you donate them so they will stay connected to their mates throughout the redistribution process.
  • Clean Shoes are Happy Shoes – If your shoes are very muddy or dirty, please take the time to spot clean them as best you can before donating them. (Otherwise, Cindy will end up cleaning them up for you and she deserves better than that!)
  • Bigger is Better – OTM’s greatest need regarding size is men’s 11 to 14. If this is your shoe size, please give generously. Your shoes can make a real difference for others in our community.

Thank you so much to those of you who already regularly contribute your used shoes to our donation program! We hope that learning more about the fate of those donations and their unique ability to make a positive impact on our community will increased and more thoughtful shoe donations. We are very grateful to Cindy and her drive to help others, and her outside of the (shoe)box thinking for creating a way for our shoe donations to make a tangible impact right here in Durham! (We are also really appreciative of the good cheer she brings to our store with her frequent visits.)

If you are feeling inspired by Cindy’s year-round acts of good will and would like to contribute to Open Table Ministry yourself, you may do so in any or all of these simple ways:

  1. Bring your used, but not abused, shoe donations to the store per the donation best practices cited above.
  1. Volunteer to work in the free store, serve lunches, assist with move-in when clients find permanent housing, or transport clients to medical appointments. Click here for more information of volunteer opportunities at OTM.
  1. Donate directly to OTM. They need more than just shoes! Click here for a list of their most needed items or to make a monetary donation.

Another happy free store customer admires his new shoes.


Reporting by Ellen Moss, Bull City Running’s Director of Community Engagement