COLUMBIA CITY — Thanks to key donors and a supportive city government, a new Safe Haven Baby Box is likely coming to Columbia City in the near future.
The City Council heard from Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc., a nonprofit.
Abandoned as an infant, Kelsey has made it her personal mission to educator others and provide options for mothers in need.
“My birth mom abandoned me two hours after I was born,” Kelsey said. “There was no Safe Haven law. She was charged with abandonment. My birth mom thought there was no other option.”
Safe Haven Baby Boxes allow mothers to safely and anonymously leave their infants either at a hospital or fire station, where staff can quickly retrieve and care for the child.
Indiana’s Safe Haven law allows mothers who are unable or unwilling to raise their child to turn the child over before he or she is 30 days old.
“If you don’t provide options, you will find a baby abandoned somewhere,” Kelsey said.
Some are willing to meet firefighters face-to-face at their station, others do not leave the hospital with their babies after giving birth — but for others, they are left with little options when they fear face-to-face interactions.
Interest in bringing a Baby Box to Columbia City grew significantly after a woman surrendered her baby to Columbia City firefighters last month. Though the mother was willing to meet face-to-face in this instance, that may not be the case in the future.
“This is being proactive. Being reactive would mean we found a dead baby in your city. This is a good thing that happened a few weeks ago,” Kelsey said.
The community has offered overwhelming support for the mother and the initiative.
“In the past couple weeks there has been a lot of discussion — it’s all been positive,” Councilwoman Jennifer Romano said. “Sometimes that’s a rare thing. If one has been handed over the correct way here, how many haven’t been? That’s a scary thought.”
Support is so overwhelming, in fact, that local organizations have come together to nearly fund the project in its entirety.
Joan Western, president of the Whitley County Republican Women’s Club, spoke on behalf of the 24-member group, which already had its sights set on getting a Baby Box for Columbia City.
“Last fall we started talking about what we wanted to do for 2019. The first thing that came up was a Baby Box — before this happened,” Western said. “The holidays came, we set things aside, and then here comes the baby.”
The boxes themselves, which have three separate alert systems for public safety officials and are secure and safe for infants, cost $10,000 initially and $200 per year for maintenance. In addition, the group wants to purchase signage and cover other miscellaneous fees for a total of $15,000.
Three weeks ago, Loree Strong, practice manager for Parkview Whitley General Surgery, visited Western’s office and asked what the Whitley County Republicans Women’s Group was up to.
“I was discouraged. We wanted to come up with a way to raise the funds for a Baby Box,” Western said.
Strong made a connection with Dr. Lisa Hatcher, who presented the fundraiser to the Parkview Whitley Medical Group. With the help of Parkview, Whitley County Right to Life, Columbia City Knights of Columbus and other donors, the group only has $3,900 left to raise. In addition, it is looking for a local contractor who may be willing to donate time and expenses for the installation.
Western told the council, “I don’t think you need to worry about the funds.” The club was waiting to launch a formal fundraising campaign until getting a formal approval from the City Council that it would support the installation and use of the box at City Hall. The council unanimously approved moving forward with the project, and is expected to approve a contract with Safe Haven Baby Boxes at its next meeting.
Those who would like to donate can make a tax deductible donation to the RTL of North Central Indiana with a notation for “Baby Box” in the memo. Checks can be mailed to the WCRWC at P.O. Box 165, Columbia City.
“When groups like this step up and are willing to foot the bill with lots of different donors, it makes that decision easier for the entity,” Mayor Ryan Daniel said.
With few Baby Boxes in the area, more than just Whitley County residents can benefit. Warsaw is moving forward with a Baby Box of its own and there is one in Woodburn and Michigan City, but there are few others in the area.
Kelsey said some women have driven 50 miles or more to find a Baby Box for their child.
Last month, there were three babies in six weeks in Whitley, Kosciusko and Allen counties.
“Word is getting out. We never recommend it as a first option, this is a complete last resort option,” Kelsey said. “If there’s an AED in the mall, I don’t want to use it. But if we have to use it, it’s there.”
After the council’s approval, there was a round of applause by the public in the audience.
“I am blown away by the support and acceptance of this as a necessity for our community,” Daniel said. “This is a big thing and we are excited about it.”