Safe Haven Baby Boxes spread to 14 states and counting with K of C support
By Natalie Hoefer
Jordan and Gabrielle Bullard of Shelbyville, Indiana, recalled with a chuckle the day they welcomed their adopted daughter, Lynne Marie, last spring.
“It felt kind of shady — we picked her up at a gas station that was midway between us and her foster parents,” said Gabrielle. “Every morning I sing a little song to her, ‘I picked up my baby at the GetGo!’”
Just a month earlier, Lynne’s birth mother had decided that, for whatever reason, she could not care for her newborn. She placed her infant in a Safe Haven Baby Box at a fire station in Elkhart. Lynne was retrieved and medically tended to within minutes. She was placed in a foster home and then gratefully gathered into her adoptive parents’ arms on March 25, 2023.
Stories like this are occurring more and more often in the 14 states where Safe Haven Baby Boxes have been installed so far. Monica Kelsey, founder and CEO of the Indiana-based nonprofit organization established in 2015, is confident that number will grow.
“I fully expect we’ll be in all 50 states before long,” she said.
Each year, dozens of infants are illegally abandoned or discarded, often in dangerous locations; by the time they are found, most have already died. Kelsey, who was conceived in rape and left at a hospital in 1973, is passionate about providing a lifesaving alternative for mothers unwilling or unable to care for their babies. Since the first Safe Haven Baby Box opened in Indiana in 2016, local Knights of Columbus have been actively involved in fundraising and advocating for many of the nearly 200 baby boxes now in operation.
“I always say the Knights are my No. 1 support,” Kelsey affirmed. “They’re right there on the front lines with me.”
“It’s been a great partnership,” agreed Indiana State Deputy Scott Schutte. “And we’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”
‘NO SHAME, NO BLAME, NO NAME’
The concept for Safe Haven Baby Boxes came to Monica Kelsey on a visit to South Africa in 2013. It was there she first saw a baby box and learned about its purpose.
“It was a way for a woman who couldn’t raise her newborn to anonymously give her baby a chance at life — no shame, no blame, no name,” Kelsey explained.
All 50 states in the U.S. have “safe haven” laws that allow infants to be surrendered, without legal repercussions, to designated care providers such as hospital staff. However, in order for a baby box to be installed, a state must pass legislation allowing an infant up to 30 days old to be surrendered anonymously in a box not monitored by cameras; 20 states currently allow such baby boxes.
The temperature-controlled, incubator-like boxes are installed in the exterior walls of fire stations, police stations and hospitals. Staff must be able to reach it within minutes of an internal alarm sounding when the self-locking box door is closed.
The first Safe Haven Baby Box opened at a fire station in Woodburn, Indiana, in 2016, and the state continues to lead the country with 110 boxes.
“At least 75% of them had the Knights’ hands on it somewhere,” said Kelsey. “The Indiana Knights rallied around us right from the start. It was an inspiration to see a group of men support women at every level.”
Sometimes councils are involved in promoting a site for a box; sometimes they take a role in raising the roughly $15,000 needed to make and install one. They also sponsor and promote education and awareness campaigns, a 24/7 crisis hotline and other resources that the nonprofit offers to help mothers keep and care for their babies.
“I want these parents to get the help they need before they put their baby in one of our boxes,” said Kelsey. “There’s even information and a care package inside the box for them. The box is always the last resort.”
Still, there is much rejoicing when a baby that might otherwise have been abandoned is surrendered.
“It was pretty exciting,” State Deputy Schutte said of Indiana’s first box-surrendered baby in 2017. “It was wonderful to say our Knights put forth the effort to make it happen. It sparked a lot of fundraising by other councils to get a baby box in their community.”
Since 2017, 27 babies have been anonymously surrendered in Indiana’s baby boxes, in addition to 133 babies surrendered in person.
‘WORTH ALL THE EFFORT’
After Indiana, the states with the most Safe Haven Baby Boxes are Arkansas and Kentucky. Kelsey approached legislators in Arkansas about expanding the state’s safe haven law in 2018.
“That state was important to me because it’s where my biological family is from,” Kelsey explained.
The first baby box in Arkansas, installed at a fire station in Benton in 2020, was funded through the efforts of Our Lady of Fatima Council 9396 in Benton and Arkansas District #1.
Since then, Knights have initiated or contributed to fundraising for every one of Arkansas’ 23 boxes, according to Dale Flamand, culture of life chairman for the state council.
Arkansas’ first baby box surrender took place at the Benton fire station in May 2020. Overall, five babies have been surrendered in the state’s boxes.
“My reaction? Smiles and tears,” said Flamand, a member of Christ the King Council 10167 in Little Rock.
But there is still a lot of work to do, Flamand said, to ensure there are boxes present in communities throughout the state.
Dave Holzwarth, Kentucky culture of life chairman and a member of St. John and St. Francis Council 11470 in Georgetown, said the goal of Knights in Kentucky is to have a box in each of his state’s 120 counties.
“A bill expanding our safe haven law was passed in 2021,” he said. “Once it passed, we started trying to get boxes wherever could.”
The first Kentucky box was installed in Louisville in July 2021. There are now 26 boxes in the state, and the Knights have been involved in at least 17 of the projects, Holzwarth said.
Three babies have been surrendered in boxes in Kentucky, all in 2023.
“Just to have one baby saved is worth all the effort,” said Holzwarth.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes saw tremendous growth over the past year. In 2023, 50 boxes were installed, calls to the organization’s hotline tripled, and fundraising to help mothers keep their babies increased.
“In December, we opened an additional facility to manufacture baby boxes,” said Kelsey. “The demand was so high, our other facility couldn’t keep up.”
“The Knights’ support is pivotal in defending the rights of these children who would be abandoned and these mothers who think that’s the only option,” she added.
The Bullards are grateful that Lynne’s birth mother opted for life.
“My No. 1 goal in life was to be a mother,” said Gabrielle. “Safe Haven Baby Boxes has allowed me that opportunity, and our little Lynne is the biggest blessing we could ever ask for.”
For more information, visit shbb.org.
NATALIE HOEFER is a reporter for The Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.