HOBBS, NM – Hobbs Town Commissioners took a step forward to save the lives of unwanted newborn babies at a recent meeting by voting to install a baby box in the Southeast New -Mexico.
The vote was spurred by the case of Alexis Avila, who was caught on surveillance camera in early January dumping her baby – who was tied up in a plastic bag – in a dumpster behind a shopping center by almost freezing weather. Dumpster divers found the newborn – six hours later, and still alive.
Due to the incident, the commissioners approved a resolution supporting the installation of a surrender security device at Hobbs 1 Fire Station, also known as the “Site of Refuge”, and authorizing the city to seek funding for the installation and maintenance of the device from the State.
“We would like to have the box here as soon as possible,” Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said. “As soon as we see what is happening from the state and other partners, we could find. We hope to do something here in the next few months.
In February, the commissioners had made changes to the Hobbs Safe Haven for Infants Act, the Hobbs News-Sun reported. These changes allowed infants aged 90 days or younger to be delivered via a “safety device” or “baby box” without fear of criminal prosecution by parents.
Hobbs Fire Chief Barry Young said the Safe Haven baby box was a much needed asset to Hobbs and surrounding areas.
“The whole baby box concept really hit home here locally when we had the incident with the baby thrown in the dumpster,” Young said. “There has been a lot of discussion about what can be done on the part of the city and prevent this from happening again. Prior to this incident, I am not aware of any incidents as such, especially in my 20 year career.
“My opinion is that if it can save a baby, it’s definitely worth it.”
New Mexico Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, agrees.
According to Gallegos, who has been a baby box advocate ever since “Baby Sal” was found in the dumpster. Although the rise has been slow and difficult, he said, cities in New Mexico are taking steps in the right direction to continue to provide more options for mothers who feel they have no no choice but to abandon their child.
“Loving and Carlsbad have both reached out to me about having a box set up in their cities,” Gallegos said. “For a city to have a box, it has to have a 24-hour fire station, so we may end up with about 30 of these boxes statewide. The idea is that if we have at least one per county in the state, we can provide more options for these women.
“This next year I intend to make adjustments because the bill still leaves some responsibility to the mother and we want to ensure that in the overall scheme when the child is placed in the box , there is no responsibility for the mother. We also want to make sure that if the grandparents or the father want the child, they have the right to go and do a DNA test so that they can collect the child from the CYFD It’s the first step and I’m really proud of Hobbs.
Young said approval of Monday night’s consent agenda is only the first step in the process. It allows the city to establish an account where it can begin funneling donation money. There will also be a $300 annual service fee for the company providing the box.
Young said the process isn’t as simple as some might think.
According to the consent schedule, $18,500 is to be raised for installation and box costs. Of this amount, $11,000 is the initial cost for the box itself.
Gallegos said part of the cost to the city had pledged to be covered by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who in February offered to cover the cost of five baby boxes to be placed in the state, with Hobbs following the first in Espanola.
“It will give women options they didn’t have before. This is an anonymous option that has never been offered to women in the country before,” said Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Box. News-Sun. “It is essential to give options to women. We can prevent these incidents from happening, like the case that happened in January. It’s sad that it took this case to provide an option for the community there. I’m grateful the baby survived and they’re moving on.
Kelsey said the company already has 98 baby boxes in five states, with New Mexico being the sixth.
In Indiana, where Kelsey is from, two to three babies a year were found dead before the boxes were installed. After installation, no infants were found dead and a record number of babies were recovered from the boxes, she said.
“We literally changed the game. We knocked it down in Indiana and Arkansas. We’ve had a total of 14 babies (recovered) over the past three years in our boxes and we’ve had 115 women going to fire stations,” Kelsey said. “Our program isn’t just about women going to clubs, it’s about giving women options.
“We’ve had nearly 130 babies, moms and dads, who have gone through our program in just under three years.”
Cobb agrees that a baby box will provide options for people struggling to manage an unwanted newborn.
“This box indicates that we (Hobbs) care about children and we also care about people who are dealing with some of the issues of having children and not knowing what to do. We hope this will give them the opportunity to feel like they can take the child and put them in a safe environment and not make bad decisions,” Cobb said.
According to Kelsey, once the money is raised and the contract signed, it will take about two to three months to build, deliver and install a box.