GARY — In what is seen as a real plus for mothers and families, the 52nd Safe Haven Baby Box nationally is now in operation. The Gary Fire Department’s Engine Company 5 at 4959 Pennsylvania is now the home for another in a growing number of Baby Boxes in Northwest Indiana.
During his blessing, Fire Chaplain Lt. Thaddeus Brown prayed that the heated box for holding infants serves as a “beacon of hope.”
Speaking for Safe Haven Baby Box founder Monica Kelsey, Chanel Cunningham, director of programs and administration for the boxes, recalled how Kelsey was conceived during a rape and how her mother was abandoned by her family.
Through these Baby Boxes, Cunningham said, the program is raising awareness of current laws and “providing anonymous options for women and other people who need to surrender their infants.”
Safe Haven Baby Boxes operate on the premise, Cunningham continued, of “no shame, no blame, and no name.”
The Gary site is the 48th Baby Box in Indiana. Others are located in Wisconsin and Ohio.
“Safe Haven Baby Boxes works hard to ensure that every parent knows all their options including a Safe Haven surrender,” Kelsey stated in a press release.
Since 2016, there have been 10 babies placed inside Baby Boxes, including six in 2020. Kelsey’s organization has also been educating students and providing emergency personnel training on how to best respond to both mother and child in this situation.
Prince offers empathy
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince, speaking as the father of four and grandfather of 11, said he and his wife were able to provide for their family, adding, “but there are a number of people who do not have the ability to do that.”
The mayor learned about Baby Boxes during his political campaign from Joan McClusky, who was involved in the first Lake County Baby Box in Hammond in 2018.
McClusky, who attended the Gary dedication, explained that her company sponsored that initial Baby Box.
“It’s important for mothers to be able to give their baby up anonymously,” McClusky said, “and know it will be taken care of.”
As Cunningham explained, the Baby Box along the west wall of the fire station operates with a 60-second delayed alarm, allowing the mother or other person to leave the area. The alarm company then alerts 911, which then notifies fire authorities. The interior of the box, or bassinet, is climate controlled.
“Without a doubt, there is a need,” Prince said.
Gary Fire Chief Sean O’Donnell, whose department dedicated Engine Company 5 in July, expressed his thanks to those who donated to the Baby Box, which costs $15,000 to install. That gratitude included the anonymous donor who contacted O’Donnell shortly after the fire chief began soliciting funds.
“To give that child a chance is huge,” O’Donnell said, “and we’re going to make sure that baby is taken care of and go from there.”