It doesn’t look like much: a one-story building at the corner of County Road and Vineyard avenue in Oak Bluffs. Tall stands of trees edge the eastern borders of the property, and at the back of the lot an American flag flaps in the breeze. Beneath it is the Portuguese flag.

The trees are bare-branched and the tourists have gone home, but there are still cars in the parking lot of the Portuguese-American Club. The heart of the PA Club beats year-round.

And it is a generous heart. Ask the high school students who’ve received college scholarships from the club, the Island groups that host events there, the families who have received financial support for medical issues thanks to PA Club fundraisers.

Not just football and fish frys; PA club gave out $42,000 in scholarships last year. Gina deBettencourt

“The mission of the PA Club is to make money so we can give it away,” says Tricia Bergeron, who was president of the club for 22 years before passing the torch to Gina deBettencourt two years ago. On a recent Thursday night fish fry, it is obvious that Tricia is still very much involved. She takes a break from prepping food to explain that she is still on the board of directors and was elected assistant treasurer this year. “I can’t walk away,” she says with a laugh.

Tricia sports her green PA Club staff shirt as she works the back kitchen with a group of fellow volunteers.

“We have a lot of people who work behind the scenes here to make it all happen,” she says. Some came a day earlier to start prepping for the fish fry. Then they came back in the afternoon to get going again. There’s macaroni and cheese to make, jalapeno corn bread to bake, and of course, about 90 pounds of cod to fry. Each volunteer has a role. On this day, Tricia is prepping all the food. Dylan Estrella and Kayla Parkhurst are on fish duty. But their volunteering extends further than the fish frys. Two years ago, Dylan became one of the sopa chefs during the PA Club’s biggest event of the year: the annual Holy Ghost Feast in July.

But on this winter day at the PA, the roads outside the club are slick and icy rain is falling from above. But inside, the soup hall — so named because it was built as a place to eat that famous linguiça sopa — is bustling as people tuck into their plates. Pretty impressive for January on the Vineyard.

“We were just saying the same thing,” Tricia says. “It really is the community that allows us to do what we do. They support us . . . so we try to do things that will bring them in.”

For many, fish frys are a family affair. The Santos family — George, Marion, Grant, and Max — rarely miss them. It’s a good meal, a good price ($12, and you can get seconds), a good family night out. Lately, Peter Cronig, a high school classmate of George Santos (their class had their 30th reunion at the PA Club, and will soon have their 40th there) has joined the group. George’s father (also George) attends when he’s on the Vineyard.

Grant and Max, both students at the regional high school, have been coming with their family since they were in strollers.

“They couldn’t even put the food on their plate and go,” Marion says. “We’d have to take one up at a time, and everybody knew them. They would wait, and they would talk to everybody.”

When the boys were in elementary school, they started working at the family shish kebab stand at the Holy Ghost Feast.

“It’s a tradition that goes back four generations,” George says. When George started working at the stand as a youngster, his own grandfather was there, too.

Charlene Alley, manager of the PA Club, estimates that this fish fry will net between $800 and $1,000. In summer, the dinners can pull in $2,000.

But the biggest event of winter is the WMVY Big Chili Fest. This year the daylong extravaganza raised more than $27,000, all for the Red Stocking Fund, which provides Christmas gifts and clothing to Island children in need.

“The club itself — that’s what it’s all about, is helping,” says president Gina deBettencourt on a Monday afternoon at the club.

Gina is in the new bar room of the club, completed in 2004 and featuring a gleaming wooden bar, two pool tables, a stone fireplace and several TVs. The club put a new roof on last year thanks to help from Hinckley Lumber and Miller Construction, and is currently working on a project to install a fire sprinkler system. Gina says it’s been strange for the club members, who are so used to giving their money away, to be asking for help for their own building.

On this Monday, Gina has already prepared several dishes for the members who show up on the weekends — in this case a long weekend — to watch their favorite teams and catch up with their friends. There are 12 people at the bar, where bartender Erin Pye is serving up drinks. Erin “grew up working through the ranks of working the feast and the family days,” she explains.

Down the hallway, at one of the tables in the main room a woman types on a laptop. Four of the TVs are showing the Atlanta Hawks/ Detroit Pistons game, but the day before they were all tuned to the Patriots as New England romped its way to an AFC title.

“There were about 30 people here yesterday,” Gina says after she had brought out the latest round of dishes: stromboli, pulled pork, and spaghetti pie. “People have their thing that they like to do.”

To the outside observer 30 people in one spot seems like a lot, especially for a gray January day on the Vineyard. But “we can fit 300” in the room, Gina says. And this number, though it too seems like a lot, is only about a quarter of the PA Club’s membership, which currently is between 1,200 and 1,250. Membership dues are $105 for the first year and $50 every year after.

“We have a lot of members that are longstanding; they’re lifers,” Gina says. Being Portuguese isn’t a requirement. Some, including Gina’s youngest son, are just 21. Some are in their 90s. Some come to the club regularly, like the sports guys. Some come to help out at the big events. Others never come at all, but they continue to support the club and its mission.

“We have some people that pay, and we haven’t seen them in 10 years,” Gina says.

This is the best part of her job, she says, the community support. Last year the club gave out $42,000 in scholarships. Being on stage handing dozens of kids a check is an overwhelming feeling, Gina says. In many, but not all cases, they’re kids who have helped out at feasts.

“It’s really neat to see how they grow up and give back,” she says.

This story also appears in The Vine, a redesigned monthly publication launched by the Gazette media group, and in Island mailboxes this week.