Columbus North student meets city, fire officials about baby box senior project

COLUMBUS, Ind. – A teenager hopes dozens of visits to the local scrap metal yard will pay dividends for the upcoming school year. Hunter Wart, who will start his final year at Columbus North High School next week, is recycling old appliances and aluminum cans with the hopes of using the money to fund a baby box at a city fire station.

Wart said he first learned about the box late last year. Before school let out for the summer, he and his mother, Julie Kwasniewski, decided to go the route of recycling to collect the $10,000 needed to install one.

The teenager had spoken with the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes to learn more about getting one in Columbus. The organization, led by Monica Kelsey, helps women learn where they can surrender a child, and works to get more baby box locations in Indiana.

"This is literally the first time a high school senior called me and said, 'Monica I want to work with you and I want a box to go in Columbus,'" Kelsey said. "I was just shocked. I never had a senior call me and say I want to raise $10,000."

Wart said he's made about 30 trips to the scrap yard, so far. Kwasniewski said when old appliances started getting taken, the owner of Jeff's Lawn Care temporarily gave her a truck to use to haul around them around. They've been using it now for almost six weeks.

On Thursday, the two had four or five trips to the yard planned. The first visit brought in a little more than $57.

"Even though we only bring in small amounts, it’s going to add up to a very large amount of money," Wart said.

The senior has already had his project approved by his teacher. Wart said the only rule is the project must involve or benefit the community. Capt. Mike Wilson at the Columbus Fire Dept. said it's not the first time a student has used the project to benefit firefighters or a fire station.

Thursday was the first time Wart, his mother, and Kelsey met with city and fire officials to discuss his project. The city next wants to see a formal proposal from the student.

"He’s going to prepare additional information and I believe we are going to meet again at a later time," said Wilson.

There is still time for the city to learn more about the boxes. Wart's project isn't due until the end of the school year.

While Indiana law already allows someone to surrender a baby over to police, fire or hospital workers without the fear of prosecution, as long as the baby has no signs of abuse or neglect, the baby box allows the parent to surrender the child without any interaction.

"The face-to-face interaction is what deters women from going into some of these locations because they may know someone who works there," said Kelsey.

There are three alerts that go with the box, each one notifying authorities. If all three sound, firefighters are supposed to get to the child in less than five minutes.

So far, there are three baby boxes in Indiana, according to Kelsey. The most recent one was blessed Monday in Decatur Township in southwest Marion County.

Kelsey said she expects 10 boxes to be in place across Indiana by the end of 2018.

She added that since the state's safe haven law has been in place, 72 children have been surrendered. Three of them were placed in or at baby boxes. She said since her organization started roughly two-and-a-half years ago, there have been zero baby deaths due to abandonment in Indiana.