January 12, 2024

Knights of Columbus support is ‘pivotal’ in growth of Safe Haven Baby Boxes

Jordan and Gabrielle Bullard, left, smile with their baby, Lynne Marie, together with Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes (SHBB), and her husband Joe in Woodburn, Ind., during the opening of SHBB’s new baby box production facility on Dec. 2, 2023. The Bullards adopted Lynne a month after she was surrendered in a Safe Haven Baby Box in Indiana in February 2023. (Submitted photo by Jason Mann of J Michael Photography, LLC)

Jordan and Gabrielle Bullard, left, smile with their baby, Lynne Marie, together with Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes (SHBB), and her husband Joe in Woodburn, Ind., during the opening of SHBB’s new baby box production facility on Dec. 2, 2023. The Bullards adopted Lynne a month after she was surrendered in a Safe Haven Baby Box in Indiana in February 2023. (Submitted photo by Jason Mann of J Michael Photography, LLC)

By Natalie Hoefer

Jordan and Gabrielle Bullard of Shelbyville recall with a chuckle the day they welcomed their adopted daughter Lynne Marie last March.

“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 (SHBB) at a fire station in Elkhart, Ind., where 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.

“Each year, dozens of infants are illegally abandoned or discarded, often in dangerous locations,” says Monica Kelsey, founder and CEO of SHBB, which is based in Woodburn in northeastern Indiana. “Sadly, most have died by the time they are found.”

But thanks to SHBB, life-changing stories like Lynne’s are on the rise. In 2023, more boxes were installed, more states legalized their installation, and more calls came into the non-profit organization’s help line than in any year since SHBB was founded in 2015.

Kelsey credits the Indiana Knights of Columbus for its support from the beginning, including sharing information about the organization with councils outside of the state.

“I always say the Knights are my number one support,” she says. “They’re right there on the front lines with me.”

Indiana Knights of Columbus State Deputy Scott Schutte agrees.

“It’s been a great partnership,” he says. “And we’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

‘No shame, no blame, no name’

Kelsey is passionate about providing a lifesaving alternative for mothers unwilling or unable to care for their newborn, and for a powerful reason: she was conceived in rape, abandoned at a hospital in 1973 and later adopted.

The concept for Safe Haven Baby Boxes came to 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 explains.

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, for a baby box to be installed, a state must pass legislation allowing an infant up to 30 days old to be surrendered in a box not monitored by cameras to ensure anonymity. Largely through Kelsey’s efforts, 20 states currently allow such baby boxes.

The temperature-controlled, incubator-like devices are installed in an exterior wall 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 was installed at a fire station in Woodburn in 2016, and Indiana continues to lead the country with 112 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.”

‘They were all in’

The partnership began in the winter of 2014 when Kelsey met Scott Cunningham, Indiana Knights of Columbus State Deputy from 2014-2016, at a Gabriel Project fundraiser dinner. Both had been invited to share their pro-life story.

“I was kind of pulling information from her about the Safe Haven Baby Box program and how can [the Indiana Knights of Columbus] support this in the best way,” recalls Cunningham, who, like Kelsey, is adopted.

“At that time, the baby box was still in its prototype phase. The State Council was able to make a donation to offset the cost of that initial program, building the box and getting it tested.”

Kelsey was invited several times to speak at the Knights’ annual state convention and offer workshops at their biannual organizational meetings. Interest in SHBB spread among the state’s councils.

The first baby box surrender occurred at a fire station in Michigan City, Ind., in 2017.

“There’s no record to confirm this, but certain calls that came in from [SHBB’s] 800 number and some hints from firefighters indicated that the mother had driven quite a ways,” Cunningham says. “When it came to the local [Knights] council, that meant that you didn’t have to be in an inner-city situation to have a baby box, that these boxes will save babies in rural areas, too. That save did a lot to help the program grow.”

North Vernon is just one example of a rural area that installed a box after the 2017 surrender.

Anthony Callahan, a member of Knights of Columbus St. Bernard Council #1631 in North Vernon, reached out to Kelsey in 2018 “about how to get the ball rolling” in the city. A baby had been abandoned at a local church there in 2015, causing “great awareness of the need for something like [SHBB] in the community,” he says.

When Callahan spoke with his fellow council members about the boxes, “they were all in,” he recalls.

A group obtained approval from the local city-county council “since the box would have to be installed on city property,” says Callahan.

Between a few private donations and a golf scramble the Knights held, enough money was raised for two boxes, which at the time cost $10,000 (the cost is now $15,000). One was installed in North Vernon, and the additional money was donated to install a box in Clarksville.

‘The box is always the last resort’

Individual council support of SHBB ranges from promoting a local installation to raising part or all of the money for a box to funding the annual maintenance fee to ensure the device’s safety.

They also sponsor and promote education and awareness campaigns and help finance SHBB’s 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,” says 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 a hurrah kind of moment” when an infant was saved in Seymour in January 2020 in a box funded entirely by Knights of Columbus Msgr. Rawlinson Council #1252, says member David Rossi. He was finance secretary for the council when the box was installed in June of 2019.

“More saves inspire more installations, which leads to more saves and more installations,” says Cunningham.

In 2023 alone, 15 boxes were installed in Indiana and 57 nationwide, with seven surrenders occurring in the state and 17 nationwide surrenders.

In all, 37 babies have been saved since SHBB was founded, and 191 boxes have been installed among the 20 states that now allow this “no shame, no blame” alternative to abandonment.

“I fully expect we’ll be in all 50 states soon,” says Kelsey.

The demand for baby boxes has increased so much that the organization opened a new facility in December to help build the lifesaving devices.

Cunningham notes that support for SHBB in Indiana goes beyond the Knights of Columbus.

“The people of Indiana have responded in force,” he says, including private donors, churches, townships and municipalities, as well as “tremendous support” from parishes and pastors.

“And Monica has worked her tail off and did a lot of work to branch out,” he adds.

But Kelsey calls the Knights’ support “pivotal in defending the rights of these children who would be abandoned and these mothers who think that’s the only option.”

The Bullards are grateful that Lynne’s birth mother opted for life.

“My number one goal in life was to be a mother,” says 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.)

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