Surprise township funding makes baby box possible in Franklin

Franklin’s first baby box planned by Beats for Bristol and the mayor’s Youth Leadership Council is fully funded after a surprise donation from the Franklin Township Trustee’s Office.

Four youth council members presented its 2021 project, which calls for a baby box to be installed at Franklin Fire Station No. 22, during the Franklin Board of Public Works and Safety meeting Monday night. 

Following the board’s vote to approve a contract with Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Franklin Township Trustee Lydia Wales announced her office would fully fund the project, a welcome surprise. Wales presented a big check for $15,000 to the students with the condition they stay in touch with the trustee’s office after they graduate.

The money for the box came from extra funds the office earned helping the state process applications for its COVID-19 rental assistance program. The trustee’s office, which is paid $40 per application processed, has raked in about $30,000 so far, Wales said.

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With the means to help and recent news of a baby box being used in Indianapolis, Wales knew this was the right way to use the township funds, she said.

“I reached out to the mayor and thought, ‘what good can I do with this money,’” Wales said. “It was two days later that I saw that on the news. It was a God thing.”

Franklin’s baby box will be the second installed in Johnson County. The first box was dedicated in late January at White River Township Fire Station No. 53.

The new box was initially planned to be ready in May, but it could happen sooner now that the project is fully funded, Franklin Fire Chief Matt Culp said.

The box will be installed on the side of the fire station, near the parking lot, so babies can be dropped off anonymously and without fear of prosecution per Indiana’s Safe Haven law, Culp said.

When the box is used, an alarm will alert Station 22 and county dispatch, so the closest available fire crew can rescue the baby. The alarm will feature a slight delay so the individual surrendering the baby has a chance to leave the area before firefighters come outside, he said.

Before Wales volunteered the funds, the youth council had been working on a fundraising plan. The council was inspired to fundraise for the project after learning of Beats for Bristol’s work on the box, said Brandon Beaman, a junior member of the council.

Beats for Bristol founder Katie Sparks had started working in earnest on the baby box project in March and decided on the fire station after touring potential sites with Safe Haven officials, she said. Sparks laid the ground work, getting the city’s approval on several items related to the box before the youth council came on board, she said.

Sparks had already secured $8,500 in funding from the Johnson County Community Foundation and was surprised to hear about the trustee donation. Sparks was also working with the Knights of Columbus on funding when the youth council offered to help her, she said.

Now, with funding for the box already provided, Sparks hopes to put any additional funds toward educational materials to be placed at crisis pregnancy centers and stickers to place on dumpsters to raise awareness about infant abandonment.

“It has been a goal of mine for years. It makes the work I’ve done for the last 10 months worth it,” Sparks said. “It is great to see the community accept this.”

The Franklin Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, which does a community service project every year, joined the baby box initiative in September, and worked with Culp and Lynn Gray, the city’s attorney, to bring the project to the board for final approval.

The students hope the box will raise awareness about infant abandonment and be a resource for new parents who are in dire situations, said Abbie Henderson, a junior council member.

During the project, they learned a lot about how city government works and were inspired by the collaboration between the city, township and Beats for Bristol, said Zoe Catlin, a sophomore council member.

Now, the students will work to order the box and schedule installation sometime in early 2021.