Safe Haven Baby Boxes give distressed mothers a safe place to drop off newborns while remaining anonymous.
Nineteen-year-old Hunter Wart spent over a year trying to raise enough money for a baby drop-off box. Mowing lawns and scrapping metal for months, the Indiana teenager managed to make the $10,000 required to purchase a Safe Haven Baby Box for the Seymour Fire Department. His hard work finally paid off in June 2019 when the box was successfully installed at the fire department, giving distressed mothers a safe place to drop off newborns while remaining anonymous. However, for Wart, the ultimate reward came in January 2020 when firefighters found a healthy baby girl inside, making all the time and energy he'd put into installing the box worth it.
According to CNN, Wart was a junior at Columbus North High School when he decided to raise money for a Safe Haven Baby Box as part of his senior project. "It was a lot of hard work. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears," revealed the teen's mother Julia Kwasniewski. On Thursday, a healthy baby was safely surrendered in the box, immediately alerting firefighters to the infant's presence. "We are ecstatic that the system was used. It worked perfectly, exactly how it was designed to work," said fire Chief Brad Lucas who estimated that the child was only one hour old when it was dropped off.
Speaking to ABC-affiliate WHAS, Lucas revealed a few staff members were present at the firehouse when the baby was left in the box. "They actually could hear what was going on in here and came in within 30 seconds. We rendered care to the infant immediately," he said. "Today I was just sitting in my office, and just doing what I usually do Thursday afternoon. I get a call from the guys out here who say 'hey we've got a baby.' and so out of the blue, you don't expect it, but that's when it happens. We knew it was gonna happen at some point," Lucas added.
The firefighters who found the child provided care to the infant until an ambulance could shuttle her to a hospital. Officials revealed the baby girl will be in the custody of state child services workers once she is released from the hospital. Mayor Matt Nicholson, who also got the call that Thursday afternoon in January 2020, about the baby, said, "Earlier today I get a text from both police chief and fire chief all at the same time. At that moment all I could do was smile." Both Lucas and Nicholson commended the unidentified mother for making the right choice and leaving the child in the Safe Haven Baby Box rather than abandoning her in unsafe conditions.
"This is why we put this in. So that a mother would have this choice. I've been on cloud 9 ever since it happened knowing we were able to help this baby and the mother, help the family to take custody of the baby, give it care and see that the right things did happen for that baby." said Lucas. Nicholson expressed similar sentiments saying, "I shed a tear thinking about the fact that somebody did exactly what they needed to do and didn't leave their baby in a worse situation. It's a lifetime of difference in my mind. This child has a chance to go out and grow up and be a part of the world with a caring family."
The Seymour Fire Department's box is one of 24 Safe Haven Baby Boxes installed across the nation since 2016. The non-profit was founded by Monica Kelsey—who was abandoned as an infant herself—in an attempt to give distressed new moms a safe place to leave their child while remaining anonymous. Before the initiative was launched, two to three abandoned babies died every year in Indiana, said Kelsey. The state has had no abandoned babies die since the boxes were installed, she added. "These babies were left in trash cans and dumpsters. One was left at the door of a hospital. That baby had frozen to death before he was found. But this little girl [in Seymour] is going to grow up knowing how much her birth mom loved her just like I did," she said.
Mayor Nicholson honored Wart at a press conference in January 2020, presenting him with a lapel pin as a token of appreciation. Wart, however, only asked for one thing in return: name the child "Baby Mia." The teen said, "I'm hopeful that one day she will see the story of how she was safely surrendered in the Safe Haven Baby Box I raised the money for... and search online for me."
As per the Safe Haven Baby Box website, 12 babies have been surrendered inside boxes since the first was installed in 2016. "Two other babies have been surrendered at fire stations with Safe Haven Baby Boxes. Nationwide, 100 surrenders have resulted from calls to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes national hotline," it added. The Safe Haven Baby Box organization staffs a 24-hour hotline (1-866-99BABY1) to give women the opportunity to talk to a trained professional as they consider safely surrendering their baby.