On MLK Day, Astros display community spirit

About 250 club employees, among others, assist Houston Food Bank

On MLK Day, Astros display community spirit

HOUSTON -- The Houston Food Bank -- the nation's largest food bank -- was overtaken Monday by a sea of orange-clad Astros employees who volunteered as part of the club's annual Day of Service on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day national holiday.

About 250 Astros employees, as well as some of their relatives, season-ticket holders and others associated with the club split into morning and afternoon shifts to help sort food for distribution to the needy. In fiscal year 2015-16, the Houston Food Bank distributed 79 million meals.

"Our front office has had a great track record," Astros president Reid Ryan said. "We volunteer at the Food Bank pretty regularly and Star of Hope. The MLK Day Day of Service tradition with the Astros has become really big and every single year more and more people have come. The organization loves to give back, the players love to give back and it's just a fun way to help your community and have camaraderie at the same time."

Twila Carter, the executive director of the Astros Foundation, the team's charitable arm, said about 125 employees took part in a three-hour shift in the morning and about 125 more were expected in the afternoon shift. Among those representing the club were Astros mascot Orbit, members of the Shooting Stars and even a scout.

Carter said Astros employees volunteer at the Food Bank on a monthly basis.

"This is something we do regularly, so this is easy," she said. "Everybody likes to do it."

Ryan, who recently returned from a weeklong mission trip to open an orphanage in Zambia, said volunteer work and serving others comes natural to those in the baseball world.

"We're all very connected in the community because that's what we do," he said. "The product we have is nothing that anybody has to have. We have to be socially responsible and civic-minded, so when you have people that's in their DNA, then serving and having a cause and having something to do is kind of part of who they are.

"This isn't just a job; it's a lifestyle, and people want to have more to their life than just showing up to work and coming home. They want to know they're making a difference, and so we have lots of options for our employees to be involved with, same with our players and players' wives. I would put our record up against anybody in baseball or anybody in sports."

Monday's Day of Service opened a big week for the Astros. Their annual Caravan fan outreach tour starts Tuesday, with a handful of players and broadcasters making appearances throughout Houston and Texas. The Astros Foundation is playing host to the second annual Diamond Dreams Gala, featuring legendary performer Diana Ross, on the field Friday at Minute Maid Park and the team's annual FanFest celebration is Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

"The great thing about FanFest and Caravan week is it's really our chance to get everybody thinking about baseball again," Ryan said. "You make all the moves during the offseason, guys come and go and it's kind of our chance to present the 2017 team to the public. Over the year, it's grown and grown. And so, people really look forward to this week because it's access to the players. It's a chance to get to see these guys in an environment where you can really connect with them. I'm looking forward to it."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.