Giving a helping hand to seniors one service at a time

Patti Carpenter

In the 52 years since its creation in 1972, the North Big Horn Senior Center in Lovell has become a hub of activity for the community. The center offers meals, rides, special celebrations, support, social and volunteer opportunities. It’s also a place to find information important to the senior citizen population and help with things like filling out paperwork or referrals.

The meal program is by far the most utilized offering at the center. An average of 123 nutritious, low cost meals are served daily, five days a week. About 50 of those meals are served in a group setting at the center, the remainder are picked up at the center or delivered for free to those unable to travel throughout Lovell, Byron, Cowley, Deaver and Frannie and to those living in rural areas in between.  

Group meals are served a few days per month in Frannie, Deaver and Cowley. In Frannie, an average of 25 people share lunch at the old school, and approximately 30 seniors are served at the Deaver Community Center. The meals are served on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, alternating locations. Once a month, a group of around 15 seniors in Cowley enjoy a lunch delivered by the center to a group dining at the LDS Church in Cowley.

The cost to prepare the meals is about $10 to $12 per meal, however, those 60 or older pay only $3 for the meal, $5 for those who are not senior citizens. The meal cost is subsidized by funding from state, local and federal sources. For some seniors, especially those with very low incomes, it is their only meal of the day. Frozen meals are also available for $1.50 each. 

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), adequate nutrition plays a key role in maintaining physical strength, managing chronic conditions, and preventing malnutrition in older adults, and at least half of adults living independently in their own homes need nutritional intervention to support or improve their health. 


Another highly utilized program offered by the center is transportation. According to a NCOA survey, one in five seniors 65 and older drive very little or not at all and more are giving up driving every year. To service the needs of that population, the senior center offers low cost rides within its service area (Lovell, Cowley, Byron, Deaver and Frannie) to medical appointments, the grocery store, post office, hairdresser or barber, to the senior center itself or to visit friends and family.

The cost of the rides is $1 for each stop for seniors, $2 per stop for non-seniors. Participants are asked to book rides 24 hours in advance and to schedule shopping trips on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The ride home is considered a stop.

The center has seven vans in service. Two of those vans are equipped for wheelchairs. The vans are used for both meal delivery and transportation. 

A Med-A-Van takes seniors to Cody for dialysis treatments three days a week. The cost of the Med-A-Van ride varies, with some seniors qualifying for reduced cost rides.

The senior center’s transportation program gave 3,751 rides last fiscal year. It has already provided 2,393 rides in the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2023. 


As seniors age, they often find themselves living alone. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2020, 27 percent of U.S. adults age 60 and older were living alone. The number is expected to increase as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

The isolation of living alone does present challenges like loneliness, inability to get services and the inability to get proper nutrition. In addition to help with meals and transportation, the center provides numerous opportunities for socialization at the center and for those who are homebound.

“We’re keeping people in their homes longer by providing our services,” said Gifford. “People are getting a nutritious meal every day and (shut-ins) are getting checked on regularly, because our volunteers are making sure they are OK. For some, we’re the only people they see.”

For those who are mobile enough to attend activities at the center, a wide range of activities are available including crafts, quilting, games like cards and Bingo, exercise specifically designed for seniors, holiday, birthday and veteran-specific celebrations. The center also offers several support groups for those suffering from common medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes and a grief support group for those who have lost loved ones. It also offers help with paperwork, understanding and filling out forms and even help with researching a family history.

Operating expenses for North Big Horn Senior Center are paid through a combination of state and federal grants and local funding. One mil levy, which is up for renewal at the upcoming general election in November, along with the other sources of income support the center that has become essential for seniors in Lovell and other nearby communities. Gifford said income generated by the mil levy comes from community support that is greatly appreciated.

By far, the largest operating expense for the center is maintenance of the facility, that was built in the early 70s. Some of the improvements in the past five years included a new HVAC system, upgrading bathrooms to improve handicap access, kitchen upgrades, new flooring and a new roof.

The center operates with a very small paid staff of about 10 employees. Some are part-time. Many of the services offered are made possible by an army of about 60 volunteers who act as board members, serve on the nutrition council and in the dining room and deliver meals to shut-ins. They make quilts honoring veterans and others, plant flowers and perform numerous other behind-the-scenes tasks. 

The center served more than 60 percent of the senior population in North Big Horn County in its last fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2023). In the current fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2023, the center has already served three percent more new clients than the previous year.

Gifford said most new clients come to the center through referrals from friends and family.

“Generally speaking, if they come with someone else the first time, they continue coming on their own,” she said.

The center also reaches out to seniors in the community through various newspaper advertisements and a monthly newsletter.

“The Service District (funded by a mill levy that was introduced in the year 2000) is crucial to the operations of the senior center,” Gifford explained. “The funding props up all of our programs by providing the required local match money for our grants.

“The service district funds are available for capital projects, kitchen equipment, operating costs that are not covered in our grants and emergency situations that arise. Without the service district the senior center would be facing serious challenges that would limit or eliminate our ability to provide services to the growing senior population of North Big Horn County.”

Gifford asked that citizens of all ages take this into consideration when voting for the mil levy at the upcoming general election on Nov. 5. Whether it’s for oneself or a family member, the North Big Horn Senior Center provides necessary services that support the community.

“I feel very lucky to have spent the last 32 years working in a place I love, serving generations of amazing people, hearing their stories, sharing their laughter and special events at the senior center,” said Gifford.