BELEN — A year after community members began fundraising for a potential lifesaving device, the Belen City Council approved an agreement and lease to install a Safe Haven Baby Box at the Belen Fire Department.

In March 2022, Stephanie Guerrero and Margaret Ridley presented an idea to the Belen City Council that a Baby Box would provide an option to women to legally, safely, securely and anonymously surrender an infant to a first-responder location.

In November 2022, the city approved an ordinance regarding such devices, allowing for the agreement with the company.

During last week’s meeting, Guerrero was ecstatic about the project, thanking the council for approving the Baby Box.

“I appreciate, so much, the opportunity to work together for Belen and making it a safe place for all children,” said Guerrero, who helped raise $17,979 for the project. “This is just a first step for me. I want us to work together as a community to start finding new foster parents, or people interested in adoption.

“I want to say thank you to so many churches, so many community organizations …,” she said. “The funding we raised completely covers all costs of work and construction. Anything that is left over will go toward promotional material for the Baby Box.”

Photo courtesy of Safe Haven Baby Box
Safe Haven Baby Boxes’ mission is to prevent illegal abandonment of newborns by raising awareness, offering a 24-hour hotline for mothers in crisis and offering a last resort option for women.

Belen Fire Chief Charles Cox said the city has been working on the project for more than a year.

“The lease covers what the city is obligated to provide to Safe Haven Baby Box,” Cox said. “The community has collected more than $17,000 toward the installation. The city also received $10,000 from the state.”

The fire chief said with those two forms of funding, the city has enough money to purchase and install the Baby Box at the main firehouse on Fifth Street.

“I would like to thank (City Manager) Roseann (Peralta) and (City Clerk) Dorothy (Flores) for all their help with this,” Cox said. “And also the pastor and members of the First Baptist Church.”

The box is designed to prevent infant abandonment as it gives parents who feel they can’t care for their newborns a safe place to anonymously surrender the baby. The box is embedded into an exterior wall of a first-responder building, such as a fire station, and has both heating and cooling elements, depending on the temperature outside. When a baby is placed in the device, a silent alarm is triggered, notifying emergency responders.

According to the approved agreement, the city will pay Save Haven Baby Box an initial fee of $11,000, and an annual fee of $300 for maintenance. The council also approved a memorandum of agreement with the First Baptist Church of Belen that the church would pay the $300 fee, as well as the $500 renewal fee to be paid every five years.

The city will pay for the expenses to maintain the device, training and public awareness.

New Mexico’s “Safe Haven” law allows newborns to be surrendered at a fire station, police station or hospital. Parents can relinquish a child to a safe haven within 90 days of birth without penalty.

During this last year’s legislative session, former Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-District 7) helped introduce a capital outlay request for Baby Boxes for every county in the state. It unanimously passed the first committee with funding, but the second committee approved it without funding.

Sen. Greg Baca (R-District 29) introduced it in the Senate, where it passed. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham approved the capital outlay request for $330,000  ($10,000 for each county) to plan, design, construct, equip and install surrender safety devices statewide.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a resolution requiring the removal of a structure at 518 S. Seventh Street in Belen, stating the house remains dilapidated, damaged and ruined condition that has deteriorated further;
  • Approved an application with New Mexico Finance Authority for financial assistance for the purchase of a Ferrara Pumper, 1,000-gallon water tank for the Belen Fire Department;
  • Approved a resolution accepting a donation of surplus vehicles — a 2015 Chevy Tahoe and a 2016 Ford F-150 — by Valencia County to the Belen Police Department;
  • Heard a presentation regarding LED lights from Cheyanne Ernst, of Delkia;
  • Heard a presentation regarding the city’s second quarter financial report from Finance Director Daniel Carbajal;
  • Heard an update on city projects.
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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.