SUNBURY — The BST&G Fire Station 350 officially blessed the fourth Safe Haven Baby Box in Ohio on the east side of its building at 350 W. Cherry St. on Tuesday afternoon.
According to a press release issued by Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Ohio has a “Safe Haven Law,” which allows people to surrender their unwanted and unharmed newborn (30 days or less) without fear of criminal prosecution at any fire station, hospital or police station. A Safe Haven Baby Box ensures the safe surrender of an infant to emergency medical personnel in anonymity without face-to-face interaction.
The box is equipped with alarm systems to notify 911, cooling and heating features, and locks as soon as the baby is placed inside. Emergency medical personnel in the building can retrieve the infant from the inside within five minutes, the release states.
Monica Kelsey, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Safe Haven Inc., was herself abandoned as an infant.
“I have to take you all the way back to Aug. 25 of 1972, when a young 17-year-old was brutally attacked, raped, and left along the side of the road to die,” said Kelsey, from Indiana. “Abortion was illegal in our country, even in the case of rape and incest. This girl pressed charges against the man who had raped her. He was arrested and charged. She was hidden for the remainder of the pregnancy and gave birth in April of 1973, and abandoned her child two hours after she was born, and that child was me.
“My father is a convicted rapist, and I don’t even know my ethnicity, but I’m still a human being and I still have value,” Kelsey continued. “My life isn’t worth any less, simply because how I got here. I now stand here on the front lines, making sure women have a safe alternative option that they haven’t had before. These babies are being saved in our boxes, and it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.”
Kelsey is now a firefighter and paramedic who started Safe Haven in 2015. She patented the baby box and sold it to Safe Haven for $1 so as not to profit from it.
The Safe Haven Baby Boxes program costs $15,000 to implement in a community, which includes a billboard campaign. The BST&G baby box was funded primarily by a grant from Discount Tire’s Driven to Care Foundation. In addition, local contractors such as Table Rock Construction donated their time, labor, and materials for the installation. There were also donations from Sunbury United Methodist Church and Sunbury Christian Church. No taxpayer dollars were used.
Assistant Fire Chief Rob Stambaugh said Chief Christopher Kovach and the fire district board were supportive of the project.
“The quote the fire board had was, ‘We are in the business of saving lives, and this will save lives,’ ” Stambaugh said. “This is literally a battle of life and death for these children.”
“Every life is precious, and to save any babies is what we elected officials strives for in legislation,” said state Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware).
“Before I was a state representative, I was a Genoa Township trustee and I know working with our own fire and EMS departments, how professional the men and women are here at BST&G,” said state Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Twp.). “It just gives me great comfort to know it’s here in this location.”
Carfagna added that Sunbury, being along routes 3, 36, 37 and near Interstate 71, was an ideal location for a baby box.
Carfagna also said he recalled the Safe Haven Law moving through the legislative process as a staffer at the Ohio Statehouse 20 years ago and was glad to see it come to fruition.
“I’m just grateful that everybody’s hearts are in the right place, that everybody’s dedicated to saving lives,” he said. “We’re providing a resource I’m frankly sorry that we need to have, but I’m extremely grateful that we have it.”
Community faith leaders blessed the baby box during Tuesday’s unveiling.
Dr. Gordon Myers, of Sunbury United Methodist Church, presented Safe Haven with an additional donation for continued funding of the box, as well as some small blankets made for infants.
Myers gave thanks and praise to God: “For the lives in which this box will save, and knowing that each individual that is placed in this box is special to God. Likewise, I give thanks to God for those who serve in this station.”
“I would like to pray God’s blessing on the lives that will be saved and impacted,” said Sunbury Christian Church Pastor Dave Cahoon. “Lives that will contribute to this community and others. Lives that are valuable to you. Father, you are an awesome God.”
“This box is now available for women in this community,” Kelsey said following the blessing. “This box offers no shame, it offers no blame, and it offers no names.”
Tuesday’s event also marks the 56th fire station or hospital in Arkansas, Florida, Indiana or Ohio to have received a Safe Haven Baby Box. Nationwide, 96 women have come through the program and 10 infants have been placed in baby boxes, with six taking place in 2020, all in Indiana. Safe Haven has also received more than 5,000 calls from Canada, Mexico and the United States to its 24-hour hotline at 1-866-99BABY1.
For more information, visit www.SHBB.org.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.