WARSAW — Supporters of Safe Haven Baby Boxes got what might be a one-of-a-kind endorsement of its program last week ahead of Warsaw City Council’s vote Tuesday on whether to install a box in the city.
Representatives of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, based in Woodburn, don’t like to publicize plans before the boxes are installed for fear mothers wanting to surrender a newborn will be unable to find the box and end up dropping off the child in an unsafe location, said Monica Kelsey, founder and director of the non-profit group.
But last week a mother, prompted by one of two billboards along US 30 promoting Safe Haven Baby Boxes, called a hotline number on the billboard and was given advice on how to legally and anonymously surrender her child. The billboards were paid for and lined up by Right To Life of North Central Indiana.
“Within two hours, she was walking into a facility and handing the child to a person,” Kelsey said Monday.
Details of the circumstances were not made public, but Kelsey confirmed it happened in Kosciusko County. The group announced the surrender Wednesday on its Facebook page.
“We’re just thankful this mom chose a good option and did not place her child in an unsafe (location)” Kelsey said.
The surrender comes just days ahead of a vote on the subject in Warsaw.
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer was approached last year with the idea of installing a baby box in Warsaw and has been working with the group and the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory for months to fine tune an agreement before seeking final approval.
The fire territory board agreed last week with a plan to install a baby box at Fire Station No. 2 on Center Street. City council will consider the proposal when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in council chambers.
Supporters think the coincidental surrender helps their cause.
Kristy Ormsby, of Chapman Lake, conducted a public fundraising campaign last year to raise the $10,000 needed to cover the cost of the climate-controlled box in Warsaw. She’s also been involved in efforts for installation of other boxes in northern Indiana communities.
“There were those who questioned when I was fundraising whether we needed a box here,” Ormsby said. “I believe that question has been answered.”
Kelsey added, “I am hopeful. I think they see the need and I think they see that a child’s life was just saved because of our efforts. What more can they do to be pro-active?”
Dave Koontz, director of Right To Life of North Central Indiana, said the billboard campaign started in November and has been promoted at 15 to 20 spots in Whitley and Kosciusko counties. The recent surrender was a highlight, he said.
“It was really encouraging,” Koontz said of the surrender. “To have that happen even before the baby boxes are in is great.”
After hearing about the surrender, Thallemer said it made him feel gratified to be in a position to further help. He said he did not realize the importance the billboards could play.
“It shows obviously, people are aware of these options,” Thallemer said. “It’s a very difficult to surrender an infant like that and having a safe way to do it might make it a little easier.”
He said he’s heard some council members express support the proposal, but declined to predict it would pass.
An influx in the popularity of the boxes began after Indiana adopted a law last year that permits any fire station staffed 24-hours to install baby boxes for the surrender of newborns. In Indiana, women can surrender their babies within 30 days of giving birth without facing prosecution provided the child has not been abused.
Kelsey said there have been three babies dropped off at baby boxes and the group has helped coordinate 44 safe surrenders.
“One day at a time, one box at a time, one city at a time, we’re trying to combat this abandonment issue. I’m thankful and blessed that women are trusting us enough to call us and let us assist them in their time of need.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from Mayor Joe Thallemer.