Building Capacity During a Pandemic

Part II in a Series on Community Partner, The Clothesline for Arlington Kids

Meet Ellen and Ben. In 2018 they identified an unmet community need in Arlington – a place where those in need could “shop” for free clothing for their school-aged children. After months of research, they launched The Clothesline for Arlington Kids.

The Clothesline, November 2021.

APAH and The Clothesline have noticeable similarities. Both support low-income neighbors; both strengthen safety nets for households in the community; and both, albeit separately, utilized the same office space on North Pershing Street. In 2018, after APAH moved its headquarters to its newest development at the time, The Springs Apartments, The Clothesline found a new home in APAH’s former office.

Since The Clothesline opened its doors in mid-2018, 80,000 items of clothing have been given to over 1,500 kids. “Our goal is to provide our clients with one-stop shopping,” noted Ellen. “We provide school-aged children with a basic wardrobe.” The business model for The Clothesline is unique. Garments are donated by Arlington residents and businesses. The Clothesline then provides a welcoming, fun, retail-like environment for low-income families to shop for and select a season’s worth of clothing – twice a year – at no cost.

Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit Arlington in March 2020, The Clothesline hit a major snag.

Co-founder, Ellen prepares
a package of clothes for a client.

“We knew families would continue to need new clothes for their children but also that they would experience increased difficulty acquiring those new clothes due to the pandemic,” recalled Ben. “Even during a pandemic, kids will still outgrow their clothes. Now, factor in a household’s income loss and you have a greater challenge for families.”

To answer the question of how to continue to provide an essential service in a way that is safe for clients and volunteers, Ellen and Ben innovated to build capacity and continue their mission.

In May 2020, after temporarily closing its doors for a month, The Clothesline reopened with a new temporary business model. Families complete a detailed survey to indicate their children’s specific clothing needs and preferences, and clothes are available for pick up within 2-3 weeks. Donated clothes from the community are taken to the homes of volunteers so the garments can be inventoried and sorted, then returned to The Clothesline ready for distribution.

Packages ready for pickup.

“We have been the beneficiaries of great flexibility with our volunteers and an abundance of community support,” noted Ben. “Advancing a mission like this takes a team. From donors to volunteers, it has been great to see community members step up to support our mission over the past year and a half.”

As we near the end of 2021, Ellen and Ben are excited about the future. In October 2021 they hired Gretchen, their first employee, and hope to hire a second employee in early 2022. They hope to resume initiatives that were paused due to the pandemic, like strengthening relationships with APS social workers, faith institutions, and the donor community. But at the end of the day, Ellen and Ben hope to have clients come back into the store to enjoy the in-store shopping experience that was intended from the start.

In the spirit of giving thanks, APAH would like to acknowledge the network of all community partners and supporters who work tirelessly to ensure that all neighbors in our community thrive.

For more information on The Clothesline, to donate, and for volunteer inquiries, please visit:

Read Part I of the Spotlight Series on The Clothesline for Arlington Kids.

A Message From The Clothesline For Arlington Kids

We extend our deepest thanks to the Arlington community, who has supported us since The Clothesline’s inception, and enabled us to continue its mission during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are actively seeking volunteers and donations so that we can continue to support neighbors in need.
-Ellen and Ben