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Hobbs slated to receive baby box

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Gabrielle Arsiaga/News-Sun

Hobbs is preparing to install a “baby box” where infants can be safely surrendered — and is only the second city in New Mexico to install one.

The baby box is in response an incident almost nine months ago when Hobbs resident, Alexis Avila, was caught on a surveillance camera throwing her new-born infant — who was tied in a plastic bag — into a dumpster in near freezing weather. Dumpster divers found the newborn — six hours later, still breathing.

Commissioners unanimously voted last week to approve a resolution in support of installing a surrender safety device at Hobbs Fire Station 1, a “Safe Haven Site,” on White Street, and authorizing the city to seek funding for the installation and maintenance from the State of New Mexico.

“We’ve identified Station 1 as the proposed location, barring any hiccups or changes in construction. That’s going to be our hope is to install (the baby box) at Station 1,” Hobbs City Manager Manny Gomez said.

According to Gomez, the date for the installation of the box has not been set yet.

According to the resolution, Safe Haven Baby Boxes, Inc. is set to install the box, with the approximate cost slated at approximately $21,000 — $10,000 of which was offered by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in February to cover the cost of five baby boxes to be placed around the state. The offer was in response by the governor as a political compromise.

“The money (for the boxes) has already been set aside for us through her capital outlay. During the session, the governor negotiated with a representative out of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and negotiated to pay (the $10,000),” N.M. Senator David Gallegos, R-Eunice, previously told the News-Sun.

The first of the boxes was installed in Espanola at the beginning of the year.

While the cost of the box is around $21,000, the recurring annual costs associated with maintaining it is about $1,800 — of which $300 is an annual service fee to SHBB. The initial fee is $11,000 but SHBB will waive the fee if donations covering the amount are made directly to the company.

And those donations, according to Safe Haven Committee member Sheila Baker, are set to come from two different entities — a “social media influencer” and MECA Therapy LLC.

“There’s a committee, Rocio Ocano, HFD Chief Barry Young, and myself (Baker), we’re all on this committee for the Safe Haven Baby Box project,” Baker said. “We’ve obtained a grant from the State of New Mexico that is $10,000. Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc. had someone approach them wanting to support their mission. (The social media influencer) works with providing funding for the installation for the box. That’s what’s going on the back end to cover that $11,000,” Baker said.

According to MECA’s co-founder and CEO Jeff Flores, their involvement in the installation of the box involves a monetary donation of half, or up to $7,500.

“We want to help in any way we can,” Flores said. “We just felt that this was a wonderful cause to help with.”

Gallegos, who has been an advocate of the Safe Haven Law that passed as House Bill 374 in 2013, has been pushing for the installation of SHBB in each of New Mexico’s 33 counties.

According to Gallegos, if just one SHBB can be placed into each New Mexico county, an incident like the Avila one can be prevented.

“If those people had not found that baby, he would be in the dump, covered over and buried, and nobody would ever know,” Gallegos said. “And how many are done that way because we don’t have anything in place?”

The SHBB allows a child, up to 90-days-old, to be placed into the boxes — no questions asked.

SHBB founder Monica Kelsey, said the company already has 98 baby boxes in five states. New Mexico will be the sixth.

In Indiana, where Kelsey is from, she said the state was finding two to three dead babies a year before installing the boxes.

“We’ve literally changed the tide. We’ve turned it around in Indiana, and Arkansas. We’ve had a total of 14 babies (recovered) in the last three years in our boxes and we’ve had 115 women surrender at fire stations,” said Kelsey. “Our program doesn’t just revolve around women going to boxes, it revolves around giving women options.

According to Gomez, the SHBB’s installation for the community of Hobbs and Lea County is a step in the right direction.

“I think (the baby box) demonstrates collectively we as a community, and a county, can come together on a common goal and to put our resources together to provide an outlet/option for those that may have a difficulty with the ability to foster and care for a newborn, Gomez said. “In this case, rather than taking a more drastic or inhumane approach, this approach gives the chance of having a greater opportunity for life.”

“It provides them that viable option that we dealt with (at the beginning of the year) and was inhumane. It was something that we don’t ever want to happen again in our community. We’re being proactive to give options.”

“From a grassroots standpoint I think (the installation of this box) is a testament to the community of Hobbs,” Flores echoed. “ There are times where we don’t wait for others to help. … This is a testament that the small town of Hobbs can come together and do big things in the best interest of the community. I think it has set a standard for other communities in the state to follow.”

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