Food Bank’s new CEO follows in father’s footsteps

Food Bank’s new CEO follows in father’s footsteps

Food Bank’s new CEO follows in father’s footsteps
Like father before her, Caitlyn Sly has long been an advocate for stamping out world hunger. This year, she returns to the Food Bank as executive director, a job her father held for 40 years before retiring in 2020. (Charleen Earley photo )

CONCORD, CA (Apr. 26, 2024) — While Caitlin Sly is just weeks into her job as president/CEO of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, she is not new to serving people with food insecurities. In fact, a passion for helping others runs in her family.

“I come from a family of non-profit professionals,” noted Sly, whose father Larry was executive director of the Food Bank for more than 40 years before retiring in 2020.

Though the title has changed, father and daughter are carrying out the same work. And, her new office is at the Concord warehouse – a building dedicated to her father in 2012.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work Caitlin has done in the non-profit world and am anxious to see all she can accomplish at the Food Bank,” he said. “If you had told me that the little girl who came to Food Bank events would someday replace me in the job I loved, I would have thought you were a bit off-center. Caitlin is a different person than me, but I think she brings the skills the Food Bank needs at this critical time.”

A family affair

Born and raised in Albany and now living in Walnut Creek, Caitlin has other family members with the philanthropic spirit. Her uncles and aunts were in food banking, and her mother worked at an environmental education non-profit for years.

“Giving back is in my blood, and I have always felt like if I was going to dedicate my career to something, it should be helping out those that are less fortunate,” she said. “I feel like I have been very privileged to grow up in the Bay Area in a middle-class household and like I owe it to my community to help people who may not have had the same opportunities that I have had. I truly believe it is unjust that any of our neighbors should go hungry and I have dedicated my career to doing whatever I can to affect change.”

After graduating from UC Davis with a major in Latin American history and a minor in Spanish, Sly taught English in Mexico for a year. She started at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano years ago as a temporary employee during the holiday season.

Eventually hired full-time, she worked her way up through the Program Department – ultimately landing the role of director of programs.

Moving on to Meals on Wheels

After 11 years, she left the Food Bank to become executive director of Meals on Wheels Diablo Region in 2020.
“I was there for four years, leading the organization through COVID-19, a fire in our headquarters and an ever-increasing need,” she said.

She also got married in October 2021 to Manar Mohamed, who is from Sudan. “We had a wedding with a mix of Western and Sudanese traditions. It was very fun – great music and even better food.”

Her first day as the Food Bank’s president/CEO was March 25, and her new co-workers are thrilled to have her on board.

“I’m very excited to work with Caitlin and learn from her. She’s a trusted, proven, dedicated leader who’s well respected in the community,” said Krystine Dinh, director of marketing and communications. “She’s a bold advocate and so approachable. Even in the few short days she has returned, she has made herself available to staff with open arms. She’s going to bring so much expertise, insight and passion to her role.”

Looking for long-term solutions

Dinh said Sly knows exactly how to effectively make a difference.

“On top of her breadth and depth of experience in food banking, I think what makes Caitlin unique is her ability to build strong partnerships,” said Dinh. “She understands that solving to end hunger requires a collaborative approach. So if you see her out and about in the community, say hello.”

With a love for humanity and equity, Sly views food as a basic human right.

“The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and our network of 260 agency partners serve 398,000 of our neighbors every month – people who would otherwise have to choose between paying for rent or feeding their family,” she said. “I believe that is not a choice anyone should have to make. Further, we are not only on the front line of defense against hunger amongst our neighbors, we actively advocate for food assistance programs and long-term solutions that help fight food insecurity systemically.”

When not working, Sly loves to travel and be outdoors.

“I do a lot of hiking with my husband and dog in the beautiful open space we are so lucky to be surrounded with here in the Walnut Creek/Concord/Clayton area,” she said. “My husband and I are also preparing for a baby (in June) and so that is occupying quite a bit of time.”

Just weeks into her new job, Sly is already thinking about the Food Bank’s future.

“I am thrilled to be taking on this new role and to get to work with the wonderful staff, volunteers, donors and community partners that make our work possible,” she said. “The Food Bank is coming up on our 50th anniversary next year, and I look forward to leading this organization for decades to come.”

See a brief YouTube video that Charleen Earley made for this story:

Charleen Earley

Charleen “Charlie” Earley is a 26-year freelance writer for Bay Area publications and beyond. She teaches journalism mass media communication classes at Diablo Valley College and San Ramon Campus. She’s also a stand-up comic, a mom, “Grammy” to three grandchildren and two rescue tuxedo cat sisters.