On June 4, Portage Fire Station #2 unveiled their newly installed Safe Haven Baby Box, a device that allows mothers in crisis to anonymously surrender their newborns, ensuring both the safety and well-being of the infants and the protection of their mothers.
The installation of the baby box was made possible thanks to an anonymous donor from another state.
“This is a wonderful gift to Portage, and to the young mothers in the area who might not have any other options,” said Portage Mayor Sue Lynch. “We will treasure it, we will honor it, we are humbled.”
Located on the south side of the fire station’s main entrance, the baby box is equipped with an alarm system to immediately notify fire station staff members once the baby has been surrendered. Heating and cooling features, a secure bassinet with a blanket, and an automatic lock on the outer door guarantee the baby’s safety.
“In a perfect world, we’d hope this box is never used, but we know it’s not a perfect world,” said Portage Fire Chief Tim Sosby. “This provides a safe alternative for mothers in need to surrender their babies, and to give that child a chance for new life.”
Indiana’s 2000 Safe Haven Law allows people to anonymously surrender their healthy newborn to any fire station without fear of criminal prosecution. Indiana is one of five states with updated Safe Haven Laws to include additional surrender options, such as the Safe Haven Baby Box. Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Inc., created the initiative as a final resource for women in crisis to ensure a safe surrender of their babies. Kelsey herself was abandoned as an infant in 1972, at a time when no safe haven law protected her birth mother.
“Portage, you should be proud. You’re taking a proactive measure in your community to make sure no baby dies in this community,” Kelsey said.
Spearheaded by Portage Assistant Chief of EMS Dan Kodicek, with the help of Councilmember at Large Deb Podgorski and Division Chief Inspection Chris Kender, the Safe Haven Baby Box installation cost roughly $15,000, and the anonymous donation covered that cost in full, plus maintenance fees for the next five years. Additionally, United Services installed the device free of charge.
“It’s a pretty big endeavor to get these, so we’re really grateful to our donor and to be able to provide one to the community,” Kodicek said. “So far, it’s our one and only in Portage.”
“This is a crucial resource for those who feel like they’ve run out of options,” said Portage Councilmember at Large Ferdinand Alvarez. “Its location and close proximity to the highway make it a clear, accessible option to those who need it most.”
This is the 26th Safe Haven Baby Box installed in the country, and the 22nd one to be installed in Indiana. The organization also staffs a 24-hour hotline (1-866-99BABY1) to give women the opportunity to talk to a trained professional at any point in their decision to surrender.
“Even after surrender, we’re hoping to save mothers by getting them connected to counseling, resources, and additional help,” Kelsey said.
“It’s hard for me as a mother to imagine making that difficult decision to surrender my child,” Lynch said. “I applaud the woman who has the strength and courage to put her baby in that box. It’s a selfless decision for her and a lifesaving one for that baby.”
Linda Znachko, founder of He Knows Your Name ministry, became an advocate for the Safe Haven Baby Boxes mission in 2009. After the body of a newborn baby was discovered in a dumpster in her hometown of Indianapolis, Znachko said she founded the ministry to ensure every child receives a name in life, and dignity and honor in death.
In 2014, Znachko had a proper burial for a baby found abandoned in Indianapolis’ Eagle Creek Park; she named her Amelia.
“I believe Amelia’s mother abandoned her out of fear,” Znachko said. “She didn’t know her options. Our state has a really high infant mortality rate, and this is how we’re going to bring it down. This live option is going to save the world.”
The logo on every Indiana Safe Haven box features Amelia’s footprint.
“Every mother who chooses to safely and anonymously leave her baby in this box will see this footprint,” Znachko said. “It is proof that she was a real baby, and that we need to protect babies and their mothers like Amelia and her mom. It is proof that she lived, and that this choice will give this baby a better chance at life.”
Many more boxes are planned to go live in Indiana in the coming weeks, including in Valparaiso and in Hobart. Znachko echoed Kelsey’s earlier praise of the City of Portage for joining the charge in protecting the lives, hearts, and souls of women and their children.
“I thank you all for advocating for moms and their babies here in the community of Portage and beyond,” she said. “To advocate for them makes you a progressive community, and an example for other communities to look to.”
Father Kevin McCarthy of Nativity of Our Savior Catholic Church gave Portage’s Safe Haven Baby Box an official blessing, inviting the community to raise their right hands and join him in prayer.