OLDSMAR – Every year for the past 20-plus years, residents, officials and organizations have donated their time, money and material goods to Oldsmar Cares, a North Pinellas nonprofit that provides, food, clothing and services for the needy.

And once a year, Oldsmar Cares gives back.

On Oct. 27, Oldsmar Cares held a volunteer appreciation picnic at Veteran’s Memorial Park. It was the fifth such event the nonprofit group has staged, and according to longtime board member David Wallace, the reason behind it is simple.

“We thought about doing a VIP type event,” Wallace, a local architect who has been a member of the board nearly since its inception, said prior to the start of the cookout. “But then we decided everyone who volunteers time, money and supplies to us is a VIP.”

Oldsmar CARES was founded in the 1990s by the Rev. Sharon Patch, head pastor of the Community United Methodist Church of Oldsmar.

As the tent started to fill to its capacity of nearly 300 guests, including Patch, several city officials and dozens of children, Wallace took the microphone to express his thoughts about the organization.

“Oldsmar Cares is my life and I love it dearly and from the bottom of my heart, and I appreciate all you do for the organization,” he told the crowd feasting on a spread that included ribs, burgers, sausages and baked goods.

Later, Wallace was presented with a special award commemorating his longstanding dedication to Oldsmar Cares.

City Commissioner Dan Saracki said he and his wife, Paula, found out about Oldsmar Cares when they moved to the city a decade ago and he said they continue to be impressed with everything they do in the community, including the volunteer cookout.

“This is a great event Oldsmar Cares puts on,” Saracki said. “It’s all about helping others. That’s what Oldsmar cares is about, and that’s what Oldsmar is about.”

As she sat at a table near the front of the tent, Patch explained how her attempt to help one needy mother grew into an organization that now has a 3,000-square-foot headquarters and has hundreds of volunteers providing goods and services to thousands of families every year.

“I was the only full-time pastor in Oldsmar at that time, so it made sense to go through us,” she said of the idea to have other local churches, businesses and organizations send supplies to Oldsmar Cares. “Once Mike McKnight and David Wallace came in, it really took root,” Patch said, referring to two of Oldsmar Cares’ original board members. “I just planted the seed. It was these others who nurtured it and grew it to the point where it is now.”

As she surveyed the crowded tent, watching people smiling and chatting and eating while playing with the children, Patch said she was most proud of two things.

“We’ve always been all volunteer based. No one has ever accepted a paycheck from Oldsmar Cares,” she said. “And looking at all the people who volunteer here and seeing them enjoying their time with each other and their families. That’s what I’m most proud of.”