Photo: Colleen and her sons, Paul and Adrian
In the dining room at the St Mary of the Cross Centre in Fitzroy, a group of people have gathered for lunch. Above the dining table is a wooden plaque that reads “Be kind to strangers ~ for they may be angels in disguise” – a fitting sentiment for today’s guest of honour.
Since 2004, Colleen Liddell has volunteered to cook the weekly lunch for people living with HIV/AIDS, but today we are celebrating Colleen’s 90th birthday, so it will be up to others to prepare and serve lunch for a change.
It is hard to believe that this tiny nonagenarian has been actively volunteering in the program for 15 years. Every week, Colleen decides on the menu and shops for ingredients, lovingly preparing the two-course meal at home before transporting the food to the venue.
Over the years, the lunch guests have been treated to nutritious, tasty and filling meals: chicken curry, chicken and vegetable soup, and her famous curried sausages and mash have become firm favourites. Comfort food at its best.
But Colleen’s contribution extends far beyond the physical nourishment of her meals; it is her approach to hospitality that have made her an integral part of the Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry.
While people living with HIV/AIDS continue to experience stigma, discrimination and social isolation, the Monday lunch is a place where they are welcomed and can feel a sense of belonging. Colleen has embraced the community, not with judgment but with an open heart, acknowledging the dignity of each individual. While Colleen’s cooking feeds their hunger, her warm and caring personality is a balm for their soul.
It is no wonder that many of the participants call her a ‘second mum’. One participant describes her as “an amazing lady who looks after us with her cooking and beautiful soup. Also generous, kind, absolutely lovely.”
As lunch is being served, Colleen exchanges playful banter with the guests; her eyes twinkling with laughter and joy. As we wish her a happy birthday, there is no doubt in our minds – there is at least one angel at our table today.