BELEN — In an effort to help mothers in crisis, a community effort is underway to raise funds and install a Safe Haven Baby Box at the Belen Fire Department.
Stephanie Guerrero and Margaret Ridley presented their idea to the Belen City Council Monday, saying the Baby Box would provide an option to women to legally, safely, securely and anonymously surrender an infant to a first responder location.
“The idea was sparked, sadly, because of the baby that was deposited in a dumpster in Hobbs,” Guerrero told the News-Bulletin. “The community, and New Mexico in its entirety, was disappointed and shocked about it.”
Guerrero then heard about the Baby Box idea, and looked into it. She contacted Belen Mayor Robert Noblin and asked him if it would be something he could get behind.
“He said, ‘absolutely,’ and asked that I present it to the council,” Guerrero said.
She then started talking to Ridley, who had been tracking the city of Española’s journey to obtain a Baby Box for about two years.
“Between the two of us, we have worked really well together and it’s gone a lot faster than I thought it would,” Guerrero said. “I love how this is bringing our community together. There are so many things that divide us right now, and this is something we all can get behind.”
“As a woman who experienced an unexpected teen pregnancy that rocked my world, it’s my greatest hope that Belen would offer life-affirming resources and choices to women who feel overwhelmed with caring for an infant,” Ridley said. “I feel privileged to be part of initiating the Belen Beloved Baby Box project with Stephanie Guerrero and working with a great team — Mayor Robert Noblin, City Manager Andrew Salas, Fire Chief Nick Moya, Police Chief James Harris, Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil, the Belen City Council, Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Inc., and our compassionate community of donors and volunteers.”
Belen Fire Chief Nick Moya told the News-Bulletin he’s 100 percent in support of the Belen Beloved Baby Box project, and has already reached out to the Española fire chief to ask him about his recently-installed box.
“If they can pay for it, we, the fire department can man it and make sure we have the process set up,” Moya said. “We’re here 24/7 and we’re EMS trained, so if something is wrong, we can intervene and do an assessment of the child.”
Noblin told the News-Bulletin he also fully supports the project.
“This is an invaluable resource for our community, not just from the standpoint of child health and safety, but also available counseling services for the parent(s),” Noblin said.
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.
The environmentally-controlled box, complete with instant alarm and infant video, also has resources for the person inside, Guerrero said, including a 24-hour Safe Haven Crisis Hotline (1-866-99BABY1) resources available in our county. They also have the option of complete anonymity or of filling out a form found in the box that offers birth and family history.
“The box itself costs $16,000 if you want it to be connected to the first responders cell phones, so we are going for that,” Guerrero said. “We also have the option of going full force with a media campaign — putting up billboards, fliers, education in the schools.”
“A lot of us in the community value life and, as a community, we want to put our money where our mouth is and say it’s not the city’s job,” she said. “We are going to raise the money for it.”
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 as long as the child has not been subject to abuse or neglect.
During this year’s legislative session, 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. According to the N.M. Legislative website, the capital outlay request for $330,000 ($10,000 for each county) to plan, design, construct, equip and install surrender safety devices statewide, is still awaiting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. Lujan Grisham has publicly stated she is in support of this funding.
“With or without that money (from the state), we’re going to bring one to Belen,” Guerrero said. “But we will be asking that the city manager or the mayor put in the request, and if they can do that, great, but we already have raised $3,200 in two weeks.”
Guerrero, who is the wife of Pastor David Guerrero, of First Baptist Church of Belen, said she was surprised when her husband agreed that the church would pay the $200 annual maintenance fees for the project.
“When we, as individuals, say we have values, we must be prepared to stand for those values when the opportunity arises. As an individual and a leader, I am proud to support our community’s effort to protect life,” David Guerrero said. “As pastor of First Baptist Church of Belen, I am committed to support both in word and action, Belen’s Beloved Baby Box effort and give others in our community the possibility of protecting life as well.”
Stephanie Guerrero said Abundant Life Fellowship in Rio Communities has donated $2,000, and other individuals have also donated money to the project.
Guerrero said while she’s excited and hopeful they’ll be able to raise the funds to purchase the box, it does no good if no one knows about it.
“It needs to be something that we need to advertise so people, especially young mothers in crisis, will know about,” she said.
The city of Española recently installed a Baby Box at its fire station, three years after a deceased newborn baby was found inside a trash bag at a home in Alcalde, near Española.
The Hobbs incident involves Alexia Avila, 18, who is charged with attempted first-degree murder and felony abuse of a child after a newborn baby boy she allegedly abandoned was discovered in a dumpster behind a shopping center.
“If this could have been an option or, at least if she could have called the hotline, she could have gotten professional help, things could have turned out differently,” Guerrero said. “We want to give moms and babies an option — a chance at life.”
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.