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Kingston church donates $28K for Rocky Top ‘Safe Haven Baby Box’

  • Ben Williams, second from left, of the Kingston United Methodist church hands a $28,000 check for a Safe Haven Baby Box to Rocky Top Mayor Kerry Templin during last Thursday’s City Council meeting. Looking on are Linda Wolfenbarger, who raised the money for the Rocky Top fire station box, and Kingston Mayor Tim Neal. - G. Chambers Williams III

  • Linda Wolfenbarger of Kingston, who arranged for a Safe Haven Baby Box to be donated by a Kingston church to the Rocky Top Fire Department, shows a photo of one of the boxes to visitors at the Rocky Top City Council meeting last Thursday night. - G. Chambers Williams III

A church in Kingston has donated $28,000 to Rocky Top to pay for installation and maintenance of a “Safe Haven Baby Box” in the city’s downtown fire station, where new mothers with unwanted infants may safely drop them off with no liability.

During last Thursday’s City Council meeting, the woman whose idea it was, Linda Wolfenbarger of Kingston, was on hand to explain the plans for the Rocky Top baby box.

She was joined by Ben Williams of Kington United Methodist Church, who presented the $28,000 check to Rocky Top Mayor Kerry Templin to pay the $12,000 cost of the box, along with $12,000 for installation and enough extra to pay $300 a year for 10 years of maintenance.

“This is an awesome thing,” Templin said.

Williams, who runs the Clothes Closet at the Kingston church, said money made by that operation is funneled into community projects such as baby boxes. The church also helped pay for a baby box that was recently installed at the Kingston Fire Department.

Wolfenbarger said she came up with the idea to try to raise money for the baby box in Kingston, and found an anonymous donor to pay for the box itself, and more donors – including the Methodist church – to pay for the installation and maintenance.

She said she later went back to the church and asked if there was any interest in funding a second baby box for another area fire station.

“We looked around and found that Rocky Top would be a good location, and the church agreed,” she said.

“I got a call from Kingston about it,” Templin said after he mentioned the idea during the February Rocky Top council meeting. “I think it’s a great idea.”

These boxes are made and distributed by the Safe Haven Baby Boxes organization, and are made to hold an infant safely and securely until firefighters or other emergency personnel can get the baby to a hospital.

Clinton recently installed one at its Fire Station No. 2 in South Clinton, and will have a “blessing” ceremony to put it into operation in mid-April.

A baby box “is a safety device provided for under [a] state’s Safe Haven Law and legally permits a mother in crisis to safely, securely, and anonymously surrender [the baby] if they are unable to care for their newborn,” says an explanation on the organization’s website (

The box “is installed in an exterior wall of a designated fire station or hospital. It has an exterior door that automatically locks upon placement of a newborn inside the [box], and an interior door [that] allows a medical staff member to secure the surrendered newborn from inside the designated building,” the website notes.

Wolfenbarger said the baby boxes must be installed at fire stations that are staffed at all times, such as Rocky Top’s is.

How soon the box will be set up in Rocky Top has not yet been determined, she said.

“It usually takes about a month to order it, and we have to have someone come to look to see where to put it,” Wolfenbarger said. “It is set up with three different alarms that alert the fire and police departments and the ambulance service.

“The box is temperature controlled,” she said. “We have ours [Kington’s] in the back of the firehouse. It has to be where there are no cameras. The baby goes to the hospital, then to foster care.

“Also, the box will fit two babies, in case they have twins,” she said.

Babies are only in the box briefly before someone opens it from inside the fire station to retrieve the child, Wolfenbarger said.

Tennessee is one of just 20 states that have passed so-called “safe haven” laws, which allow mothers to surrender newborns legally “as a last resort option for women who want to maintain complete anonymity,” the website says.

The boxes are set up so they lock after the baby is placed inside, and they automatically call 911 and set off an alarm inside the fire station. Babies usually are in the box for no longer than five minutes.

Clinton City Manager Roger Houck said his city’s baby box was provided in conjunction with Isaiah House, which got a grant to pay for it.

The Safe Haven website shows another box already in operation at Knoxville’s Fire Station 17, at 4804 Western Ave.