Hurricane is another reason for Rice to reach out

Rice community members volunteer at the Houston Food Bank

Rice News staff

With hands wildly sorting out beverages from a conveyor belt of canned and boxed goods, Wiess College freshman Andrea Ulrich shouted to the worker next to her “cover me real quick.” Never missing a beat, the worker, Brown College senior Mairi Litherland, swooped in and plunked an armful of juice boxes in the ever-expanding box in front of her.

The students are among the many Rice students, alumni, faculty and staff who have volunteered at the Houston Food Bank as part of Rice’s hurricane relief effort organized by the Community Involvement Center (CIC). At the food bank, volunteers help sort, inspect and distribute donations.

Rice students, alumni, faculty and staff volunteered at the Houston Food Bank as part of Rice's hurricane relief effort organized by the Community Involvement Center. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Ulrich and Litherland have been charged with grouping all the beverages together. Though their “100 percent juice” bin didn’t quickly reach capacity, the two boxed up and sent along many bins of other drinks. Even with temperatures unseasonably low, the volunteers worked up a sweat.

“It’s definitely work,” Litherland said. “But it’s for a good cause, and getting to volunteer with other Rice people makes it more fun and … ”

Litherland wasn’t able to finish her sentence because a couple of cases’ worth of Gatorade came her way.

This wasn’t the first time that Ulrich, the shift captain, has worked with Houston Food Bank. She participated in the CIC’s Urban Immersion over the summer. The taste she got there brought her back for more.

“I got to see the different organizations that Houston has to offer, so when the hurricane hit, I knew I wanted to come back to the food bank,” Ulrich said. “I got to see just how many volunteers are needed.”

In the wake of Hurricane Ike, there are more volunteers than usual, but there’s also more food to go through. Up the conveyor belt from Ulrich and Litherland is another group of Rice folks sorting through bins of donated food to make sure items are clean and safe.

In about two hours, the women — Elsa Sanchez ’85, Johanna Andrews ’08 and fifth year architecture student Julia Siple — had gone through about 15 donation bins. They were armed with sponges and paper towels to clean up any leaks. They also carefully inspected boxes and cans to ensure they were unopened and safe.

Sanchez was called to action when as an alumna she received an e-mail from Rice President David Leebron discussing the impact the hurricane had on campus and ways people could get involved.

“I felt compelled to take action,” Sanchez said. “I wanted to do something to help the community get through this time. I think that most people have banded together. Out here it’s not just Rice students and alumni. I’ve seen professors here with their kids. It shows you what the Rice community is really about.”

Sanchez, an employee of Lockheed Martin, is off work until Sept. 22 and was thankful Rice offered her a way to give back to the community.

“I had to do something. I was so fortunate. I even had my power back the Monday after the storm,” she said.

Andrews hasn’t fared as well with getting her power back, despite her neighbors having their lights on. She is also off work through the week from her job with Baylor College of Medicine. She plans to volunteer during that time and after. As a student, she was active in Rice Student Volunteer Program.

“I will probably come back to the food bank more often even after other hurricane volunteers stop coming,” she said. “It’s a really good organization.”

There are still ways to get involved. The primary source for those opportunities is the CIC’s Web site,

Shifts of volunteers will be leaving from the Rice University campus to go to the Houston Food Bank. Individuals may sign up on the CIC’s Web site.

In addition to that and other direct service opportunities, there is a drive to collect food, clothing and household goods for individuals in need. Collection points are throughout campus, and specifics can be found at


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