Just a few hours after their school day ended Dec. 14, many Richard Avenue Elementary School students were eagerly returning to their school -- and bringing their family members with them.

The school's PTA was holding its annual Holiday Wonderland, one of several Family Night programs held throughout the school year.

More than 370 students and family members signed up for the Dec. 14 event, which offered holiday-themed activities.

While providing students and families with a fun night out, the program also gives them a chance to interact with teachers and other Richard Avenue staff members in a relaxed atmosphere, principal Cathy Moore said.

"Parents can meet their children's teachers outside of the classroom and in a more-informal setting," she said. "Our students can also see their teachers without the daily expectations and pressures of the classroom."

Students are eager to show off their school to their families, Moore said.

"This is where they spend their time and do their work each day," she said. "They want to show them their classrooms, where they sit and have them meet their teachers."

The Holiday Wonderland program is special because it gives Richard Avenue families an opportunity to give back to the community, Moore said.

"We have a lot of families in our community who are in need," she said. "We want to instill in our students the importance of thinking about others, not just during the holiday season, but year-round."

Each person attending the Holiday Wonderland was asked to bring a canned food item.

The event serves as the culmination of Richard Avenue's drive to collect food for donation to the Grove City White Christmas project and the Grove City Food Pantry.

As the evening began, more than 1,500 items had been contributed, Moore said.

Each family also was invited to participate in the school's Giving Tree project.

"The tree has been up in our office since just before Thanksgiving," Moore said. "There are tags hanging on the tree, each listing a toy or book or an item of clothing that a local family needs."

For the past few years, Grove City real estate agent Mike Laemmle has donated coats for the Giving Tree project and he expanded his effort this year to provide coats for holiday projects at other local schools, she said.

Students and their families could participate in several craft activities, have their picture taken with Santa Claus in the library or make a Christmas card that will be sent to patients at veterans' hospitals.

"There are a lot of military personnel who are not going to be home with their families for Christmas or may not have families to celebrate with," Moore said. "This is another way to give our students and families a way to think of others during the holidays."

Danita Van, 8, a second-grader at Richard Avenue, made a card before she went upstairs to see Santa.

"I'm putting 'happy holidays and merry Christmas' on my card," she said. "That's what I want to tell them."

While she was excited about seeing Santa, Danita said her favorite part of the Holiday Wonderland was creating the card.

"It just makes me feel good to be sending a card to a soldier," she said.

The Robinholt family brought several items for the food drive, including fruits and vegetables, boxes of macaroni and cheese and spaghetti sauce.

"We just went out and bought as much food as we could to bring here," said Megan Robinholt, who attend the family night with her husband, Randy, and their son, Caden, 5, a kindergartner at Richard Avenue.

"We really didn't tally up how much we brought," she said.

As the Robinholts brought in their donated items on dollies, event organizers told them they had donated enough food to feed 25 families of four on Christmas.

"That just blows my mind," Mrs. Robinholt said. "It didn't seem we were bringing that much food. It shows that a little can go a long way to helping families in need."

The family project is a way to teach Caden the importance of giving to others, Mr. Robinholt said.

"You're never too young to learn that lesson," he said.

"I like helping people," Caden said.