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Scarves on statues meant for homeless, but removed by city

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The case of the chilly presidents was decided by the rule of consistency's triumph over the Golden Rule.

It started when two groups from the city's Calvary Lutheran Church went out Wednesday night with a downright presidential plan to help the homeless.

Calvary in Action (nicknamed "CIA") and CLC High School Youth placed hand-crafted scarves, hats, headbands and other winter accessories on Rapid City's street-corner chief executives and other public art. Attached to the items were tags: "If you are in NEED of this item, it is yours. God Bless You!"

It was as if the august collection of renowned historical figures were handing out clothes for the homeless.

By 10 a.m. Thursday, most of the items were gone, with only a bright green scarf keeping beefy President William Howard Taft warm on the cold November morning. Tom Martin, youth group leader, and Pastor David Piper walked up to remove the scarf, saying that they had been told by the city attorney's office that the statues could not be decorated.

"We completely understand, it's not about the effort itself," Martin said. "They don't want public displays, because they don't want political organizations or hate groups to try to make a statement."

City Attorney Joel Landeen said that people and groups occasionally request to decorate the statues, and that the city had to be consistent.

"If we let one group put up their message or decorate the statues, other people will ask why they can't do it," Landeen said. "We don't want to create a public forum where we can't control the message. It can detract from the art, and it might draw all sorts of groups."

But by the time Piper and Martin went out to collect the remaining items, most were in the hands of people in need. To comply with the city's request, the pair had retrieved fewer than 20 of the initial 55 garments.

"This is our (church's) first time doing something like this," Piper said. The creating of the items started six weeks ago, he added, "when we saw a problem where we might be able to help."

Martin said that the garments were produced by seniors who are members of the church and distributed by 30 students in CIA youth group.

"A lot of people joined CIA just to knit these things," Piper said. "We asked people in church if they would contribute yarn, and it came in by the boatloads."

"We had some concerns for those in need," Martin said. "And we wanted to come together as a community of people of God, to be outstretched arms of warmth and support."

Piper said that he hoped this would bring attention to the assistance needed by the homeless in Rapid City. 

"We had a conversation with the city attorney's office to find out what was acceptable," Piper said. "We can always deliver a box to the HOPE Center, but this is also an awareness issue, one we hope others will join in."

Piper and Martin said that Calvary Lutheran Church would brainstorm to find a better way to distribute the free winter clothing publicly within city rules. Like the garments distributed on Wednesday, they'll all feature a blessing and a reading from Matthew: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing."

"When the temperatures dip down to 32 degrees and below," Martin said, "we want to say that if you're cold, we're here, and here's some scripture to back you up."

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