Gadsden unveils Safe Haven Baby Box, announces second one

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  By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

Gadsden leaders gathered to officially unveil the city’s newest pride and joy — a Safe Haven Baby Box — at Fire Station #3 on Thursday, February 7.

The inside view of a Safe Haven Baby Box in Gadsden, Alabama.

The Safe Haven Baby Box is a protected drop box location for parents to surrender an infant safely and anonymously. There are no security cameras watching the drop box, but there is a silent alarm that is triggered when the box is opened. Firefighters and trained EMTs on site will be alerted to the baby and will attend to it almost immediately. The box is ventilated and protected from the elements as well. The door to the box automatically locks once it has been closed with a baby inside, so the baby will be safe from anyone trying to reach it from outside.

Once the baby is in the firefighter’s arms, they will assess the condition of the infant, contact DHR and transport the baby to one of the local hospitals for further evaluation. Once the baby has a clean bill of health, it will soon be in the arms of an adoptive or foster parent.

The Safe Haven Baby Box in Gadsden is the third in the state and joins the ranks of just over 200 boxes in the nation.

The other two boxes in Alabama are in Madison and Prattville. Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford announced Thursday that Gadsden will soon have a second box at the fire station near Gadsden City High School.

Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford speaks at the unveiling of Gadsden’s first Safe Haven Baby Box on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

“This is something really big,” Ford said. “This is a great day for Gadsden and this [baby box] lets people know that we care about children and we care about those lives. We hope that mothers never have to use this box, but we want them to know that it is here if they need it.”

During the unveiling ceremony for the baby box, Ford gave credit for the idea of bringing a box to Gadsden to his Chief of Staff Brett Johnson.

“This is a project near and dear to my heart,” Johnson said. “One of the most fulfilling things about being able to bring the baby box to Gadsden is just watching each person that had been involved with the [process] grow to appreciate the gravity of what they’re being a part of. One of the things I have loved is working with the fire department and seeing them recognize that instead of having to deal with the most tragic situations… they may have an opportunity one day to retrieve a beautiful baby out of this box and help save its life. As a parent, you know that brings tears to your eyes and it joys your heart just to think about that opportunity.”

For parents who need to use the box, there are no legal repercussions thanks to Alabama’s Safe Haven Law passed nine months ago. Under Alabama’s expanded Safe Haven Law, signed by Governor Kay Ivey in June 2023, parents who are unable to care for a new baby can voluntarily surrender the child at a hospital or fire station within 45 days of the birth.

As Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, explained: “There is no shame, no blame and now, no name.”

Safe Haven Baby Boxes founder Monica Kelsey speaks at the unveiling of Gadsden’s first Safe Haven Baby Box on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Kelsey’s passion for Safe Haven Baby Boxes is rooted in personal tragedy. She told the audience gathered at the unveiling of Gadsden’s first baby box that her mother was brutally attacked and raped in 1972 and later found out she was pregnant. Two hours after giving birth in April 1973, her mother abandoned the baby. Kelsey said that she was that baby.

“I stand on the front lines of this ministry,” Kelsey said. “As one of those kids that wasn’t lovingly and safely and legally and anonymously placed in a Safe Haven Baby Box, this is my legacy. I am now their voice, and I will forever be honored to walk alongside these mothers and be their voice too.”

Gadsden Fire Chief Wil Reed has seen what some parents resort to when they feel they have no other choice.

“This [box] means a lot to me personally,” Reed said. “Having seen what a distraught mother has to resort to when she things she doesn’t have any more options and when she can’t get what she needs… This box is just a great thing. She can surrender the child instead of abandoning the child in some unsavory ways.”

Reed also said that this would not be the end of the program, and instead, it would be the beginning.

The City of Gadsden’s facility maintenance department worked on the installation of the Safe Haven Baby Box. Donations from an anonymous donor along with the Kids to Love Foundation brought the project to life.

Gadsden Fire Chief Wil Reed demonstrates how the box works to Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford. Photos by Kaitlin Hoskins/Messenger

The second box will be funded by Community Development Block Grants.

“Surrendering a newborn is a tremendously difficult decision, and if someone has decided to take that step, we want to make sure it can be done in the safest manner possible,” Ford said. “These baby boxes have already saved precious lives in Alabama, and we want to do anything we can to make that process safer in Gadsden. Facilitating that responsibility is both an honor and a blessing for our city.”

In 2023, a record 17 babies were surrendered via a Safe Haven Baby Box. Since the first Safe Haven Baby Box surrender in 2017, a total of 43 infants have been placed in a Safe Haven Baby Box with the numbers increasing year over year. The hotline has also assisted with over 140 surrenders at Safe Haven locations.

So far, two babies have been surrendered in an Alabama Safe Haven Baby Box, both at the Madison location.

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