Our History

More than 45 years of nourishing our community
Larry Sly, fourth from the left, served as the Food Bank's Executive Director for over four decades.

In 1975 a group of people recognized that at a time when local families had a critical need for food, items like day-old bread at grocery stores would often go to waste. While the problem seemed so big, they believed it could be solved if the community worked together. This group started what is now the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

The Food Bank has gone from providing emergency food to a few thousand people – to a resource for 1 in 9 of our neighbors.

Historical Highlights

1975
Food Coalition

In order to provide a coordinated service to a greater number of people, 15 local food pantries and agencies incorporate as the Community Food Coalition of Contra Costa County. Two employees worked out of a cubicle in the Social Services office in Martinez and delivered food using a borrowed trailer from Safeway and a chest freezer.

1976
An Era of Leadership

Leadership is passed to Larry Sly, who ended up serving as Executive Director for 43 years.

1977
Moving Up

A bill is passed allowing for tax deductions on food donations. Based on this, a 5,000 square foot warehouse is leased in Concord.

1979
The First Program

The Community Food Coalition begins its first direct distribution program called Brown Bag (now called the Senior Food Program) to provide five or six food staples like bread and canned goods to 50 low-income seniors in Antioch.

1982
Farms to Families

Surplus commodities are released by the USDA providing a large increase in donated food.

1982
Feeding America

The Food Coalition joins the Second Harvest national network of food banks (now called Feeding America).

1991
Contra Costa Food Bank

The term “food bank” is becoming widely recognized, so the growing Coalition changes its name to Contra Costa Food Bank.

1992
Food for Children

The Food for Children program is created to serve low-income children ages 4 and 5 when they are too old for WIC, but not yet receiving free school lunches.

1995
Incorporating Solano

The Contra Costa Food Bank incorporates with the Solano Food Bank and changes name to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. 

1998
Growing Again

The Food Bank moves to a 30,000 square foot warehouse and office space in Concord and continues to lease a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Fairfield.

2001
CalFresh Outreach

Outreach begins to let people know about benefits available to them with the Food Stamp Program (now called CalFresh).

2007
Farm 2 Kids

The Farm 2 Kids program begins; the Food Bank partners with after-school programs in low-income areas to provide fresh produce and nutrition education to elementary and middle-school children.

2010
Growing Solano County

The Food Bank leases a larger 30,000 square foot warehouse in Fairfield.

2012
Rolling Out Produce
The Community Produce Program was started with a desire to distribute more fresh fruit and vegetables to combat health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Customized refrigerated trucks travel to high-need areas and act as mobile farmers’ markets.
2015
Milestone of Pounds

During our 40th year of operation, the Food Bank passes out 20 million pounds of food, over half of which was fresh fruits and vegetables.

2017
College Pantry Program
The College Pantry Program was started to address food insecurity amongst college students.
2019
New Leadership

Larry Sly retires and passes the torch to New CEO & President, Joel Sjostrom.

2020
Drive-Thru Distributions

COVID-19 hits and the Food Bank does not stop service; drive-thru distributions are added to keep recipients and volunteers safe. The National Guard helps assemble food boxes and the Food Bank distributes a record-breaking 40 Million pounds of food in a single year.

2021
Kitchen-free boxes

Kitchen-free boxes are created to help displaced fire survivors and others needing meals not requiring refrigeration or heating.

Founders

Linda Locke, Founder (1975)

Linda Locke was a graduate student, wife and mother when she got the assignment of a lifetime in 1975. While working for Contra Costa County Social Services, she was tasked with finding a way to prevent central county food pantries from running out of food before the month was over. Her early work developing a food program called the Community Food Coalition grew to become the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano you know today.

Linda was never shy and used her love of public speaking to acquire distribution trucks and large-scale food donations. She was also instrumental in the creation of California legislation to ease the liability of companies who donated food in good faith.

Linda was relocated to other areas of county work in 1976, but her short time in food banking created a lasting legacy. Executive Director Larry Sly recalls, “She created a food bank out of thin air.” The Community Food Coalition went from enough food to provide 30,000 meals in a year to our current organization providing 18 million meals a year.

Linda passed away on Christmas Eve of 2018 after a lifetime dedicated to helping others.

Larry Sly, Executive Director (1976-2019)

After graduating from UC-Berkeley, Larry joined the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and soon became the organization’s Executive Director. He has guided the Food Bank’s development from an organization that distributed 36,000 pounds of food in its first year to one that distributed over 20 million pounds of food last year.

Larry has served as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Feeding America, the national food bank network, and on the National Council (NAC), an elected group of food bank leaders who serve as the voice of the network for Feeding America. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the California Association of Food Banks and chairs the Emergency Food and Shelter board that allocates Federal funds to hunger and shelter agencies in Contra Costa County. Larry has served on State advisory committees on hunger and has served on task forces for Feeding America. He is also a member of the Rotary Club of Concord.

40th Anniversary Retrospective