MINNEAPOLIS - A Twin Cities woman recently launched a new organization giving vulnerable, young mothers everything they need for the birth of their child. All the baby essentials needed for the first few months of life fit inside a sturdy cardboard box.
Danielle Selassie, 37, of Fridley started "Babies Need Boxes" after noticing an article widely shared on Facebook about the country of Finland's practice of giving every expectant mother a box that doubles as a baby's bed.
The box is lined with a mattress and filled with supplies from clothing to bedding, diapers and feeding items, and since the 1930s, has been used a social program to decrease Finland's infant mortality rate.
"I thought it was just beautiful. The last line of the article really stuck with me: the boxes are a sign of equality," said Selassie. "I literally thought to myself, Danielle, why couldn't someone in the United States just put this together?"
That's when her dreams were born with the opening of a single box. Selassie used her knowledge working as a leader in a major corporation to launch Babies Need Boxes. She teamed up with friends, family and co-workers to officially launch the non-profit organization focused on serving teen mothers.
"At 19, I found myself pregnant, and unsure how I was going to be a successful mother, I wanted to tell these moms it's not a shameful situation. Anytime a baby comes into this world, it's a blessing," said Selassie.
Selassie put her child up for adoption 17 years ago, and now says she is in a position to give back. She partnered with Emerge Mothers Academy in Minneapolis to give the boxes to seven expectant young mothers at a baby shower.
"I want you guys to know I care about you. And your community cares about you," said Selassie, to the young women, through tears. "We have a box for every single one of you to take home and I hope as you put your baby in the box you will think every time someone loves you and cares about you."
Sharon Ruiz, 19, who is pregnant for the first time, became emotional after accepting the box.
"The box means a lot to me. I'm a new mom, I don't know what to buy, what to spend," said Ruiz. "It's really hard because I don't have my mom here and it's good to know I have people who care about me."
The mothers will also receive education and guidance from Emerge Mothers Academy after their child is born.
"The relationship works pretty nicely in kind of pulling down the guard of people by putting stuff in their hands right away and saying, hey, we can we do more for your life like mentorship," said Becca Erickson, who leads the programming at Emerge Mothers Academy.
Selassie orders the boxes from a California manufacturer and says the company complies with strict standards.
"A lot of new adolescent mom can be in a transient situation it can become home base too," said Selassie. "I would feel safe putting my baby in there."
To Selassie, the gift is much more than a box. She remembers her own daughter, and sees a place where dreams can grow.
"Even though she's not with me, I feel like I am honoring who she is by doing something special in giving back," said Selassie.
Babies Need Boxes hopes to give away anywhere from 40 to 100 more boxes in Minnesota next year, partnering with more schools and organizations.