Baby boxes aim to help disadvantaged moms

Jo Maxwell and one of her Stork Baby Boxes.

A prominent Pinelands Rotarian, who invented the Good Night and God Bless waterproof sleeping bag for the homeless, is at it again, this time developing a “baby box” that can be used as a bed for newborns and infants.

Jo Maxwell, 78, has based her Stork Baby Box on a model that has proved incredibly successful in Finland, where it is subsidised by the Finnish government.

To date, thanks to the support of the Rotary Club in Claremont, Ms Maxwell has produced more than 125 boxes, which are distributed to disadvantaged mothers-to-be by the Parent/Infant Centre in Wynberg through its five clinics in Cape Town.

Not only does the Stork Baby Box have the potential to house the sleeping infant, but donations of toiletries, baby clothing and food come as part of the package.

Ms Maxwell is hoping the product will gain as much traction among disadvantaged communities as the Good Night and God Bless sleeping bags did when they were first rolled out in 2005.

The sleeping bags, which comprise of micron recycled plastic bags filled with newspaper and plastic bags, have so far benefited more than 60 000 homeless people.

“I love being busy,” the evergreen philanthropist told the Tatler at her Pinelands home last week.

“I suppose the success of the sleeping bags gave me my ‘15 minutes of fame’. I have given hundreds of demonstrations, and met some fabulous people along the way,” she said.

“I had been looking for a new project, which was when I read about the Finnish Baby Box. Incredibly, the Finnish started this in 1923 already, and it’s still going. I thought that this was something that could really work well in South Africa, where you have eight to 10 people living together in a small space. It seemed ideal.”

After settling on the idea, Ms Maxwell made contact with Finnish authorities, explaining that her intention was not to make money from the boxes, but to distribute them among disadvantaged mothers-to-be.

“Once they had agreed, I made contact with the Rotary Club of Claremont to sponsor the boxes, which are purchased from the company Box-It. Assembling them is fairly labour-intensive, and I’ve been spending a lot of my days gluing on the decorations. Then I’ve been driving around fetching blankets and toiletries to place in the boxes.”

She said volunteers were strangers “who soon become friends”, and there was quite a list of groups from Athlone to Bishopscourt who were helping to get as many Stork Baby Boxes out as quickly as possible.

Ms Maxwell said she would welcome anyone who would like to help, particularly with distribution.

“Often, people think that it’s me that’s doing everything, but really the accolades should go to all those people who are committing their time, effort and money to these projects. I simply see myself as the ‘middle man’, or rather ‘middle woman’,” she quipped.

“That being said, I draw tremendous satisfaction from seeing the faces of the mothers when they receive the boxes.

“There is so much excitement. These women, and at least 60 percent of them are of school-going age, have very little in their lives, so being able to help them gives you a special kind of pleasure.”

For further information, contact Ms Maxwell at 021 531 7288.