By LYDIA BERGLAR
Joseph and Caroline Bello have approached the City of Trenton about installing a baby box in town to provide mothers an anonymous way to safely surrender their infants. The Bello family has attended two city meetings in recent months to speak about the issue and pursue next steps.
Baby boxes have been installed in cities across the United States, particularly in recent years, but the concept is far from new. “Baby hatches” or “foundling wheels” date back to the Middle Ages and were typically located at orphanages, hospitals, and churches. Caroline said, “Throughout history, people have been abandoning infants. That hasn’t changed today.”
While these early versions used a bell to notify that a baby had been dropped off, modern baby boxes have a silent alarm system and are temperature controlled. Once a baby is placed inside, the box is secured automatically, appropriate officials are notified by the silent alarm, and the baby is retrieved quickly. These are often located at fire stations, police stations, and hospitals.
Beginning in fall 2022, the Bello family has been in discussion with the city commissioners about the possibility of installing a box in Trenton, likely at City Hall. They spoke about the issue in-depth at the March 13 city commission meeting.
Safe haven laws are already in place in Georgia, meaning that parents are able to surrender their babies within 30 days of birth without any repercussions. However, they must hand the infant over directly to someone at a medical facility, police station, or fire station. If they abandon an infant in an unsafe location, parents can be prosecuted.
According to the Georgia Department of Human Services, “Under the Safe Place for Newborns Act, Georgia law gives criminal immunity to a mother who leaves her baby with a staff member or volunteer of a medical facility, fire station, or police station if the child is no more than thirty days old. The mother is not required to show proof of her identity or address.”
Unfortunately, news reports abound of people across the nation abandoning babies in dumpsters. Some stories tell of infants found outside of hospitals. While the parents may have hoped the babies would be found safely, this has led to several unnecessary infant deaths.
According to the Bello family, the benefit of a baby box in Dade County is anonymity for mothers. At the March city meeting, Joseph said, “Anonymity, that’s kind of the big thing, in a place where everyone knows everyone. Word gets around quick in this little town.” The threat of shame and gossip can lead mothers to abandon their infants, rather than safely turning them over in person.
The Bello family is concerned that with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, more mothers will find themselves in situations where they do not know what to do with their child. In Caroline’s words, “People are going to be left with children they don’t want or don’t feel prepared to care for, and everybody’s scenario is going to be different. The point is to provide a resource for the birth mom so that she (and the father as well) don’t go to prison because they wrongfully abandoned their child.”
The Bellos are openly pro-life. Regarding the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, Joseph explained, “It’s a great win in preventing babies from being murdered, but there’s a cause and effect to everything. There will still be people going through tough situations. If you don’t give some type of a solution, you’re going to have issues.”
He added, “It’s not a problem until it is a problem. We haven’t seen this in Dade, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”
The family is sympathetic to birth parents who may be facing extremely challenging circumstances. Caroline said, “They might be going through something traumatic and difficult and don’t know what to do. There’s no point in offering a resource to moms while at the same time saying, ‘How dare you do this to your child.’ The mom is giving her child the best chance she knows how.”
According to Joseph, “Baby boxes help encourage a more selfless decision, potentially preventing somebody from making an awful decision. It’s more selfless to say, ‘I can’t handle this, but I’m not going to kill my baby.’”
The family is also open about their Christian faith. Joseph explained that they see the value of human life through a biblical lens and in keeping with the way Jesus lived. Joseph said he used to be indifferent on the subject of abortion. “When I became a Christian, I started looking into the topic more. I was amazed, because people don’t talk about how abortions are performed and how horrific they are.”
During the city meeting, street commissioner Monda Wooten reflected, “It’s a shame we live in this day, but I remember when we put resource officers in the school and I couldn’t believe we saw that day.”
Mayor Alex Case and the commissioners clarified that the Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) takes over once an infant is surrendered, whether in person or through a baby box.
The Bellos asked about next steps. Wooten responded, “Well, we’re government up here, so the next step is money.” Police commissioner Mike Norris mentioned contacting the city’s attorney. Case concluded, “We’ll keep working on it.” The commissioners seemed somewhat unsure of next steps.
Regarding costs, baby boxes installed in other communities cost between $10,000 and $20,000. The city commission and the Bellos believe that with the help of local contractors, Dade could install one at a much lower price. The family is considering how to raise funds if tax dollars are not available for the project.
Caroline said, “If the city says yes to moving forward, then we’d like to help as much as we can. I have no problem calling people and organizing things; I just need to be given the green light. This could be a great opportunity for the community to pull together to make it happen.”
Joseph challenges the Dade County community, “Show me that you’re pro-life with your actions, and not just words. We can say we’re pro-life, but what are we doing to create a pro-life society? I want to know that we at least did something to stop this from happening.”
If residents would like to assist the Bellos in the efforts to bring a baby box to Trenton, they can email Joseph and Caroline at email@example.com.