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Baked Ziti: An Antidote To What Ails You As The Pandemic Drags On

Recently, “The New York Times” published an article to bring awareness to something we may all have experienced within the past year but couldn’t quite identify. It’s that feeling of aimlessly getting through our days. A lack of joy and dwindling interests, but nothing significant enough to be qualified as depression. That blah feeling that may keep us in bed a little longer than usual in the morning. As the pandemic drags on, it’s a decrease in drive and a slow growing feeling of indifference, and it has a name:  It’s called languishing (Grant, 2021). The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who noticed that the second year of the pandemic brought with it a number of people who weren’t depressed but weren’t thriving either; they were somewhere in between – they were languishing. Keyes’ research also showed that this middle state, somewhere between depression and thriving, increases the risk of developing more serious mental health problems in the future, including major depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (Grant, 2021). The article also highlighted ways to stop languishing and return to a place of engagement and purpose. The author called these “antidotes,” which can be found here.

This past holiday season, Andra Saunders, process improvement project manager at Colorado Access, noticed that some of us might be languishing and used her passion for creativity and helping others to find an antidote. The result put the Colorado Access core values of collaboration and compassion into action and allowed team members from multiple departments at Colorado Access, and their surrounding communities, to come together and be a part of something meaningful, a project that allowed us to forget our current state of languishing—an antidote the author calls “flow” (Grant, 2021). Flow is what happens when we become immersed in a project in a way that causes our sense of time, place, and self to take a backseat to purpose, meeting a challenge, or banding together to achieve a goal (Grant, 2021). This antidote started as an idea to help a few teams at Colorado Access connect with each other while helping someone in need. It turned into an opportunity to help one family get back on their feet and allowed their two young boys to celebrate Christmas.

Initially, the plan was for Andra’s three project teams to meet over Zoom and make meals together, one meal for each of us to enjoy and one meal give to someone in need. The menu consisted of baked ziti, salad, garlic bread, and a dessert. With this plan in place, Andra contacted her daughter’s school to inquire about families who might be struggling and in need of a meal. The school quickly identified a family in desperate need and asked that we focus our efforts on them. They didn’t just need a meal, they needed everything: toilet paper, soap, clothes, food that does not come in cans. Food pantries have canned foods in abundance. This family (dad, mom, and their two young children), was working hard to help themselves but continued to run into barriers that made it nearly impossible to break the cycle of poverty. Here’s an example of one of those barriers: Dad was able to get a job and had a car. But he was unable to drive to work because the expired tags on his license plates had resulted in quite a few tickets.  The DMV agreed to set up a payment plan, at the additional cost of $250. Dad remained unable to work because in addition to not having the financial means for updated tags, he also could not afford the fines and additional fees that continued to add up.

This is where Andra, and so many others at Colorado Access and beyond, stepped in to help. Word spread, donations came pouring in, and Andra got to work organizing, coordinating, and working directly with the family to ensure their most urgent needs were met. Food, toiletries, clothes, and other essentials were provided. But, more importantly, the barriers that kept Dad from being able to work and provide for his family were removed. In total, more than $2,100 was donated. The response from those at Colorado Access and their surrounding communities was incredible! Andra ensured that Dad got updated tags so he could start his new job, and that all fines and fees from the DMV were paid. Past due bills were also paid, putting an end to fees and interest that were adding up. Their electricity didn’t get turned off. Andra worked hard to connect the family with community resources. Catholic Charities agreed to pay the family’s past due electric bill, freeing up some of the donated funds and allowing other needs to be met. And the most heartwarming part, two young children got to celebrate Christmas. Mom and dad had planned to cancel Christmas. With so many other needs, Christmas was not a priority. However, through the generosity of so many, these children got experience Christmas the way every child should—with a Christmas tree, stockings filled to the brim, and presents for everyone.

What started with some baked ziti (which the family also got to enjoy) turned into so much more. A family on the brink of homelessness and unsure where their next meal would come from was able to celebrate Christmas without the stress of so many unmet needs hanging over their heads. Dad was able to relax a little bit knowing that he would be able to get to work and start providing for his family. And a community of people was able to come together, focus on something outside of themselves, stop languishing, and remember what it feels like to thrive. The added bonus, though no one knew it at the start of this project, the family’s Medicaid belongs to Colorado Access. We were able to directly provide for our very own members.

*Human resources was notified to ensure there was no conflict of interest and gave the go-ahead to continue our efforts. The family remained anonymous to all but Andra and everything was accomplished during our own personal time while not on the clock at Colorado Access.



Grant, A. (2021, April 19th). There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing. Retrieved from The New York Times: