The holiday season has arrived, and Mercer County Veteran Services is conducting its annual donation drive to help veterans and their families enjoy the comforts of a hot meal on each holiday.
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said a donation of any amount would be greatly appreciated.
“Each year, our communities are very supportive of this fund drive,” he said. “That kind of generosity is what makes Mercer County great. Our veterans have given so much; now let’s continue to show them we care.”
Rather than collecting donations of food, Mercer County’s Division of Veteran Services accepts monetary donations that go toward the purchase of ShopRite gift cards veterans can use to purchase holiday meals. Veterans will receive those gift cards in time for holiday meal preparations. Mercer County Veteran Services uses every dollar collected during the drive to purchase and distribute the ShopRite gift cards for food products.
If you wish to donate, make your check payable to Mercer County Trust Fund. Please mail donations to the Mercer County Division of Veteran Services, 2280 Hamilton Ave., Hamilton 08619.
For additional information on making a donation, please call (609) 989-6120. 
Holiday office closings 
Most Mercer County offices and facilities will be closed Friday, Dec. 25, in observance of Christmas, and Friday, Jan. 1, for New Year’s observance, although some will remain open or have modified hours.
The following county offices will be closed on both holidays and will reopen for business on Monday, Dec. 28, and Monday, Jan. 4: McDade Administration Building, 640 South Broad St.; Criminal Courthouse, 400 South Warren St.; Office of the Mercer County Clerk, 209 South Broad St.; Civil Courthouse and Office of the County Surrogate, 175 South Broad St.
Mercer County Connection, Route 33 at Paxson Avenue, Hamilton, will close at 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, and Thursday, Dec. 31, and will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. All branches of the Mercer County Library System will close at 3 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, and will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
The following Mercer County Park Commission facilities will have modified hours: the Tennis Center will be closed Dec. 25 but will be open Dec. 24 from 7:30 a.m. to noon, Dec. 31 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Jan. 1 from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Skating Center will be closed Dec. 25 but will have sessions Dec. 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dec. 31 from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m., and Jan. 1 from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., 1 to 3 p.m., 4 to 6 p.m. and 7:45 to 10 p.m.
All county golf courses will be closed Dec. 25. Mountain View and Mercer Oaks West will be open Dec. 24 and 31 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Mountain View and Mercer Oaks East will be open Jan. 1 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Equestrian Center will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 but will be open Dec. 24 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Dec. 31 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Wildlife Center will be open Dec. 24, 25 and 31, and Jan. 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Tulpehaking Nature Center will be closed Dec. 25, 26 and 27, and Jan. 1, but will have regular weekend hours Jan. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Jan. 3 from noon to 4 p.m.
Howell Living History Farm (including picnic area and parking lot) is closed to the public until the new program year begins Saturday, Jan. 30. The Friends of Howell Farm Gift Shop, located in the farm’s Visitor Center, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, through Dec. 23.
The following county offices and facilities will remain open: Trenton-Mercer Airport (except for administrative offices), Correction Center, Sheriff’s Office and the Emergency Services Communication Center. 
Library system highly rated 
Mercer County’s library system once again has been recognized for excellence. Library Journal, a monthly publication for library professionals, recently released its 2015 ratings for the nation’s public libraries and ranked the Mercer County Library System among the nation’s best libraries for the eighth consecutive year.
The publication, called “America’s Star Libraries,” rated 7,663 public libraries using a variety of data, and only 261 received star designations. The Mercer County Library System earned a five-star rating, the prestigious designation that was awarded for the first time in 2008, then again in 2009, 2010 and 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The Mercer County Library System was one of just three libraries in New Jersey to receive this top honor, and placed eighth out of 112 libraries nationwide in its budget category.
“I’m very pleased that our comprehensive library system in Mercer County is once again being recognized with this honor,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “Our library system works hard to provide the best service and the most diverse programs to our residents and their families.”
The criteria for ranking the libraries were measures that indicate public service — per capita circulation, visits, program attendance and public Internet use.
“Receiving a five-star rating from a publication such as Library Journal is an honor and means that we are nationally recognized as a public library that delivers high service and excellence to our patrons,” said Library Director Ellen Brown. “We are all very proud to be able to offer these types of services to our communities.”
The Mercer County Library System, made up of nine branches, is committed to providing the materials and services that satisfy the educational, informational, recreational, and cultural needs of its diverse community and strives to encourage a lifelong interest in reading.
For information about programs and services, please visit your local branch or 
Skating center hours 
For a fun, affordable activity just right for people of all ages, look no further than Mercer County’s Public Ice Skating Center, which is now open for the 2015-16 season. The Skating Center, located in Mercer County Park in West Windsor, is open to the public seven days a week during the operating season, which runs to March 12.
“Our Ice Skating Center continues to grow in popularity and is an affordable activity for all our residents,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, noting that in addition to open skating, the rink offers private lessons, hosts exciting high school hockey games, and is available for private parties.
The Skating Center has a full snack bar, a fireplace and lounge area, dining tables, vending machines, skate rentals, a skate sharpening service and lockers. The center offers general public skating sessions, birthday parties, and ice time for hockey, group rates and private party rentals.
Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Fridays, 7:45 to 10 p.m.; Saturdays, 1 to 3:30 p.m., 5 to 7 p.m. and 8 to 10 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 to 3:30 p.m. Senior Skate (62 and older) is offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8:30 to 10 a.m. Adult Only Skate (21 and older) is offered Tuesday and Thursday, 8:30 to 10 a.m.
Ticket prices are: adults, $8; juniors (11 and under), $6; and seniors, $6. Skates can be rented for $4 per pair. Frequent skater passes and season passes also are available. Group, private and semi-private lessons are available for adults and children on the weekends.
To obtain a complete public skating schedule with opening weekend and holiday hours; group lesson applications, rates and class schedule; and rink brochure, directions or more information, visit or call the Skating Center at (609) 371-1669. 
Keep on hand military documents 
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes reminds veterans of the importance of being able to access their discharge documents, which are needed to secure burial and other veteran benefits.
Mr. Hughes suggests that veterans make copies of their DD Form 214 or discharge documents and make them available to a family member or other responsible person so they are accessible if needed.
“It’s important that family members know the whereabouts of a veteran’s military service documents,” Mr. Hughes said. “It’s difficult to obtain a copy of those documents quickly in an emergency. Having them in a safe place can make things go as smoothly as possible during difficult times.”
Veterans who do not have or cannot locate their documents can contact Mercer County Veteran Services at 609-989-6120 for assistance. 
Energy cost assistance 
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes is reminding residents that assistance is available for energy costs for those who qualify. The County’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), offered in coordination with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, allows individuals meeting various income qualifications to apply for bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance and energy-related home repairs.
LIHEAP is designed to help low-income families and individuals meet home heating and medically necessary cooling costs. This year, the application period is Oct. 1, 2015, to April 30, 2016. To be eligible for LIHEAP benefits, the applicant household must be responsible for home heating or cooling costs, either directly or included in the rent; and have gross income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. An eligibility chart can be found on the Mercer County website at
“For many households, winter brings worry about the cost of heating and other energy bills,” said Mr. Hughes. “As this year’s program gets under way, I also urge our residents to look into simple ways they can reduce their energy costs such as using fluorescent light bulbs and weather-stripping doors and windows.”
Clients may register at the McDade Administration Building, Room 106, 640 South Broad St., Trenton, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays until 6:30 p.m. through April 30, 2016.
Clients also may be served during specific hours at County Connection, Route 33 at Paxson Avenue, Hamilton. County Connection hours will be Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon by appointment only, and Saturdays, Nov. 21, and Dec. 5 and 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome during the Saturday hours.
For information, contact Home Energy Assistance at (609) 989-6858 or 989-6959. 