Community gathers to dedicate city’s Safe Haven Baby Box

As a father of three young children, Seymour firefighter Mark Gillaspy would do anything to protect his own kids.

But he knows in some cases, a mother in a crisis situation may need to give up her child to ensure its safety.

That’s why he and his fellow firefighters support the country’s 11th Safe Haven Baby Box, which recently was installed at Seymour Fire Station 3 located behind The Home Depot.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

The station at 605 Meadowbrook Drive was chosen because of its proximity to Interstate 65, putting it within easy access of Louisville and Cincinnati, officials said.

“I feel like it was overwhelmingly supported,” Gillaspy said. “Any time we can put something in place like this to give babies a chance and mothers what they need if they can’t for some reason take care of their child gives them another alternative so that baby can have a better life.”

The baby box, which is on the east or back side of the building, allows a mother to safely and anonymously surrender her baby without fear of criminal prosecution under the state’s Safe Haven Law.

Surrendering an infant is the most difficult decision a mother will make, said Monica Kelsey, founder and chief executive officer of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.

“This box is now available to women in this community, and this box represents no shame, no blame and no names,” Kelsey said.

She started Safe Haven Baby Boxes in 2015 because she was abandoned at birth and later adopted.

“Every child is wanted by someone,” she said.

Equipped with a silent alarm to notify 911 dispatchers when the box is opened, the baby box has heating and cooling and locks when the baby is placed inside. Firefighters can then retrieve the infant from the box, which opens up into the station’s living quarters.

Gillaspy, who works at Station 3, brought his family to witness the dedication and blessing of the box Friday morning.

“Before, I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect,” Gillaspy said. “But when you see it and the technology of it and how it works, I think everyone is really impressed by it.”

The most appealing aspect is that it’s easy to use, he added.

Father Dan Staublin of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Seymour blessed the baby box with holy water and prayer, asking the Lord to protect any baby delivered to the box, their mother and those dedicated to caring for the babies.

“We pray for the protection of life,” he said. “May the life that is delivered here be kept safe in your care as we bless this box in your name.”

Seymour’s baby box was made possible by Columbus North High School 2019 graduate Hunter Wart. He raised $10,000 on his own by mowing lawns and scrapping aluminum cans and other metal to purchase the box as part of his senior project.

Originally, Wart had wanted the baby box installed at a fire station in Columbus, but officials in that community denied Wart’s request, saying it was not the “optimal way of dealing with the surrender of infants.”

Wart and his mother, Julie Kwasniewski, also attended Friday’s event.

He got the idea to buy a baby box after hearing a news report on the radio about an infant being surrendered in one.

“I told my mom that’s what I wanted to do for my senior project,” he said.

When he learned how much it would cost, he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him.

Through a lot of “blood, sweat and tears,” Wart was able to accomplish what he set out to do. Seeing the baby box in place made him proud, he said.

Although Wart has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and Asperger’s syndrome, Kwasniewski said he doesn’t let it slow him down.

“Hunter believes all life is precious,” she said. “He’s a hard worker and wanted to make this Safe Haven Baby Box happen, and he did.”

But Wart said he isn’t done and already has started saving money to purchase another baby box.

Seymour Fire Chief Brad Lucas praised Wart’s efforts.

“We thought this was a fantastic project,” Lucas said. “It didn’t take long to make it happen here, and our firefighters have embraced it.”

They got some concrete to extend the sidewalk and landscaped the area around the box.

Lucas said when firefighters go out on a call, they are responding to someone’s worst day.

“We know we can make a positive outcome, and that’s exactly what I feel this box will do,” he said. “Somebody is going to be having a really bad day to use this, but I really feel it will result in a positive outcome in that situation.”

Featured on the box and on a decorative steppingstone nearby is a footprint of Baby Amelia, who was abandoned in Indianapolis near Christmas in 2014.

Linda Znachko of He Knows Your Name Ministry took care of Baby Amelia before she died and now works to support Safe Haven Baby Boxes in her honor.

The boxes are the most powerful way to help lower the state and country’s infant mortality rate, she said.

Znachko knew Baby Amelia would leave a legacy.

“I did not have any idea that her legacy would be her footprint stamped right on the Safe Haven Baby Box logo,” Znachko said. “Her name means defender, and she has lived up to her legacy by defending the Safe Haven Law in such an amazing way.”

Waiting inside Seymour’s Safe Haven Baby Box for any baby placed in it is hope for a future, she said.

“I see the Safe Haven Baby Box as a birthday party waiting to happen,” she said.

Also attending Friday’s dedication were city officials, other local emergency responders, members of the community and several members of Knights of Columbus Council 1252 in Seymour.

The K. of C. is a Catholic service organization that is funding the annual cost to lease the box from Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc., which provides maintenance service for the box and liability insurance for as long as the box is there.

Dave Rossi, a member of Knights of Columbus Council 1252, said the international organization has honored the pro-life stance since it began. The group has funded the purchase of thousands of ultrasound machines in pregnancy care centers around the world, including one in Seymour.

“When we were approached about supporting the baby box project, it naturally falls in line with what we do, and that is to protect life at all stages,” he said. “Hunter did an absolutely phenomenal job raising all that money to buy the box.”

Two babies have been surrendered inside Safe Haven Baby Boxes since the first was installed in 2016, Kelsey said. Nationwide, 51 surrenders have resulted from calls to the 24-hour Safe Haven Baby Box hotline, she added.

Rossi said he doesn’t want any mother to have to face giving up her baby, but if it’s in the baby’s best interest, he hopes she will use the Safe Haven Baby Box.

“If we save even one baby, then it’s worth it,” he said.