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Safe Haven Baby Box is ready for use

This is the outside of the Safe Haven Baby Box that is not located at the Southside Fire Station on Etna Avenue. It is unlocked and available for use.
This is the outside of the Safe Haven Baby Box that is not located at the Southside Fire Station on Etna Avenue. It is unlocked and available for use. Photo by Katelynn Farley

Thanks to the efforts of the community and city of Huntington, another Safe Haven Baby Box has officially been installed and unveiled for mothers in crisis to use.

On Thursday, May 13, community members and city leaders gathered together at the the City of Huntington Fire Station located at 1333 Etna Ave. for a blessing and unveiling of the Safe Haven Baby Box. Monica Kelsey, founder and CEO of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, introduced the back-story of how Safe Haven began.

According to Kelsey, in August of 1972, a 17-year-old girl was attacked, raped and left on the side of the road. She pressed charges against her assailant and later found out she was pregnant. She gave birth in April of 1973 and abandoned her child - Monica Kelsey - two hours after she was born.

“My biological father is a rapist,” Kelsey said. “And I don’t even know my own ethnicity. But I’m still a human being and I still have value - my life is not worth less simply because of my beginnings.”

Kelsey also says that she “stands on the front lines” for the babies that are placed in the Safe Haven boxes.

Kelsey then introduced Huntington Fire Chief Tony Johnson, who spoke of the efforts that were put forth by the city and the community.

 “When I sat down with Mayor Strick to discuss putting a baby box in one of our fire stations, I did not expect the overwhelming amount of support that we would receive from our community,” Johnson said.

“The Huntington fire department has always tried to be proactive with our training and our equipment, to provide the best tools to our firefighters to use, to better protect the people we serve,” he continued. “This is just another tool that we have to use to help the mother of a newborn that feels she has nowhere else to turn.”

The process for installing the baby box began in January of 2020, but was stalled due to COVID-19. It took nearly seven months for the process to start back up again, and Johnson was shocked once again by the outpouring of support from the community.

“When we started the fundraising campaign, I had no idea we would reach and exceed our goal in such a short amount of time,” Johnson said. “This has all happened with the support of the community.

Extra funds raised will be donated to the Huntington County Right to Life. Johnson said that this is “to continue our mission of helping mothers and newborns.”

The question of why the community of Huntington might need the Safe Haven Baby Box has been raised with Johnson “many times” and he states that his answer is always the same when he is asked if there is a “problem” in Huntington.

“My answer has always been, ‘not yet,’” Johnson said. “We hope that there is never a need for this baby box, but saving the life of even one baby will be worth it.”

Johnson’s words were echoed by Huntington Mayor Richard Strick, who reflected on his experience within the community - particularly with young families.

“I imagine the desperation that a young parent must be experiencing and driven by to use this Safe Haven Baby Box . . . it is indeed sobering to me,” Strick said. “But at the same time, our commitment to this as a community embodies the principal of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.”

Linda Znachko, the founder of He Knows Your Name Ministry, spoke shortly after Strick, relaying the stories of mothers and children who could have benefited from the knowledge of the Safe Haven law and Safe Haven Baby Boxes.

The Safe Haven Law in Indiana “enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously, without fear of arrest or prosecution,” according to in.gov.

The website also states that “As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. Any knowledge of the date of birth, race, parent medical history, child’s health or anything that would be useful to the child’s caregiver would be greatly appreciated.”

Znachko puts forth the effort to bury abandoned babies who are found dead. She shared the stories of Alexander and Amelia, two babies who were abandoned and found dead in different areas of Indiana. The story of Alexander starts with a college student who gave birth in a college dorm bathtub in 2016. Mikayla Munn, the mother of Alexander, is currently serving time in prison for the death of Alexander.

Munn shared these words with Znachko, giving her permission to share them with the world so that her story could be heard:

“I have messed up. And my biggest mistake will help someone learn the lesson before it’s too late.

“Don’t be like me. Don’t follow in my footsteps. Be informed, and better yet, choose wisely. We reap what we sow, and God has blessed me abundantly. I never would have listened to that until now.

“Alexander saved me and I am forever grateful. I wish I could trade places with him - I wish I would have listened. I am no longer scared of what others say or do because I know my God has me, and that has made all the difference.

“My story needs to be shared - others can learn from me. So use me. My faults and all. It will change someone and I praise God he changed me.”

After reading Munn’s statement, Znachko encouraged those present to show Munn kindness as she chooses to live her life for purpose, live forgiven, and live for her son’s legacy.

Rev. Tony Steinacker and Rev. Josh Kesler were present to bless the Safe Haven Baby Box. Steinacker spoke on the impact that it will have on those who use it.

“We are here to acknowledge that every child is beloved of God,” Steinacker said. “We pray for the mothers who come here, that their fear and anxiety be turned into hope and peace as they are filled with new strength and courage.”

Kesler drew on the Holy Bible and the book of Psalms, quoting Psalm 32.

“You are my hiding place. You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

He prayed that any child that is placed into the Safe Haven Baby Box be kept safe, stating “keept them safe in your dwelling, shelter them in your sacred tent, protect them from trouble and surround them with songs of deliverance.”

The box is officially unlocked and available for use at the fire station. According to Kelsey, a silent alarm is triggered when the box is opened and babies are retreived by a member of the department in less than two minutes. They are then taken to the nearest hospital and go through a health check.

Once a baby has been deemed healthy, they are turned over to the Department of Child Services and fast-tracked for adoption. They typically find their forever homes within 30 days.