Meal on Wheels exec honored for helping ‘the whole person’

Meals on Wheels exec honored for helping ‘the whole person’

Caitlin Sly, Dist. 14 Woman of the Year.

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Apr. 16, 2022) — For her long-time efforts to fight hunger in Contra Costa County, Caitlin Sly is 2022’s Woman of the Year for District 14.

Currently executive director of Meals on Wheels Diablo Region, Sly spent the first 12 years of her career at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.

“I grew up in a family that was very conscious of giving back,” Sly said. “My dad and uncle both worked for food banks. My mom was a teacher and also worked for a non-profit in environmental education. Growing up, I was very aware of food insecurity and hunger. It’s what we talked about around the Thanksgiving table.”

The Woman of the Year honor began in 1987, founded by Assemblymembers Bev Hanson and Sally Tanner to celebrate the contributions of exceptional women. It is sponsored and organized by the Women’s Caucus of the state Legislature.

“I’m thrilled to be able to shine a light on Caitlin’s work and to recognize her with this well-deserved honor,” Assemblymember Tim Grayson said on March 8, International Woman’s Day.

A desire to help seniors

After attending UC Davis and spending a year in Mexico teaching English, Sly returned to Contra Costa County and began helping out at the food bank, where her dad Larry was the director. Her volunteer work soon turned into a job, first in fundraising and then in programs.

While working at the food bank, she saw how much easier it was to get support for children’s programs than it was for seniors. “I was interested in seeing what I could do to help seniors,” she noted.

In January 2020, at the age of 35, she became the executive director of Meals on Wheels Diablo Region. After only about two months at this new job, the pandemic caused chaos. Sly had to learn quickly how they could continue to offer services safely to a population that was at greatest risk from COVID-19.

In addition, the pandemic led to an increased need for their services, as more seniors were isolating at home and could not safely get out to buy groceries.

Sly says her team of about 60 full-time and part-time employees “really stepped up to meet the need.”

They navigated successfully as the food delivery program changed from daily to weekly to limit contact, using frozen meals. They moved exercise and fall prevention classes online, and the Friendly Visitors program shifted to telephone calls.

Crucial support

Sly’s leadership these past two years helped the organization continue to provide much-needed services to a population very much in need. “She is committed to advocating on behalf of underserved elders, so that they can remain healthy and independent,” Grayson said.

According to Sly, Meals on Wheels is more than just food for seniors.

“It’s a non-profit that tries to help the whole person and all the things they need. That’s been really rewarding. Many people we serve are alone. It’s really important that they know others are thinking about them. If there was anything good to come out of COVID,” Sly said, “it was that we became more conscious of supporting our elders.”

Meals on Wheels, which receives 45% of its funding from individuals and corporations, is excited to be hosting its first in-person fundraising event in more than two years. The gala will feature dinner, live music, dancing and auctions June 18 at Round Hill Country Club. Visit for information and tickets.

Kara Navolio
Kara Navolio

Kara Navolio is a freelance writer, telling stories of real life heroes and interesting people for several local newspapers since 2015, including The Pioneer and Lamorinda Weekly.  She is also the editor of a local magazine, Northgate Living, and her debut children’s picture book Everybody Can Dance! was  released by Brandylane Publishers, Inc. in May 2019.  She has lived in Walnut Creek with her husband for 30 years and is the mom of two now grown children.