St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic School is counting down the hours to the 22nd Annual Chocolate Festival. The festival will open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on the school grounds, on Park Avenue between York Street and Fairfield Street. The coffee shop and used book sale in the school's gymnasium will open two hours earlier at 8 a.m. Saturday for those there strictly for book browsing, according to St. Mary's School Principal Peggy Wertz. "The Chocolate Festival started in 1989. The PTO was looking for a new and different fundraiser, and someone threw out the idea of a chocolate festival. We ran with it, and it's evolved from a festival that generated a few thousand in profit to a festival that has generated up to $50,000. So it's become our primary fundraiser for the year, and the PTO puts proceeds into the general budget as well as special projects. That keeps the tuition costs down, so all our families benefit from it," Wertz said. The festival will feature the Chocolate Challenge bake-off, with categories for cookies, cakes, squares and bars, and youth baking; the Chocolate Carousel, selling single-serve portions of all things chocolate; a bake sale with whole batches of goodies; and a frozen casserole sale. There will be games, rides, inflatables and crafts vendors, an International Cafe in the gym and grilled hot dogs and hamburgers outside, and a blood drive with Shepeard Community Blood Center and pet adoptions with the Aiken SPCA. New to this year's festival is an Air Soft pellet-gun course set up across the street, according to Wertz. Karaoke Idol returns after a strong start at last year's festival, and St. Mary's offers custom DVDs of performances at the singer's request this year. Live music and dance will go on throughout the day on the outdoor bandstand as well. Admission to the Chocolate Festival is free. For more information, call the St. Mary's School office at 649-2071. Contact Suzanne Stone at