Update: How you can help struggling family
Deborah Walker, center, shares a home with her son, David, 16, and mother, Katherine Woodruff, 82.
October 6th, 2011
03:34 PM ET

Update: How you can help struggling family

Editor's note: After this item first appeared in late August, many readers offered to assist the Walker family in various ways. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of San Diego is now connecting the family with sources of assistance. If you would like to contribute, please send checks, gift cards (Albertsons, Target, Walmart) or goods to: Case Management Services, Catholic Charities of San Diego, 349 Cedar St. Room 101, San Diego, CA 92101; include Deborah Walker's name in a note or on the check's memo line. Secure online donations also may be made through the Catholic Charities website. Clothing donations: David wears 38/34 pants, XL shirts and size 13 shoes.

[Original post, published August 24, 2011] Widowed mother Deborah Anne Walker was struggling financially when the economy turned sour in the fall of 2008. She is disabled and couldn't afford school clothes for her 13-year-old son, so she ended up having him wear her jeans, and other children teased him.

"You just have to keep thinking, 'OK, what is the one thing we have left that we can live without the most?' " she told CNN in September 2008. " ... I don't understand why, every time there is a crisis, it's the poor, disabled, children and seniors who end up having to pay for it."

Some kindhearted CNN.com users and members of her church came through with help for the family that fall, but the underlying economic conditions didn't improve, and Walker's situation may be even more dire now than it was then.

When CNN asked Walker, 50, of Vista, California, for an update, here's what she wrote:

There have been a number of changes since last we spoke. My elderly mother (Katherine Woodruff, 82) is living with us now. She had a fall, and a mild heart attack, and her doctor said she couldn't live upstairs anymore. So, I brought her home with me.

David has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, which is a form of autism. He is in a day treatment facility [Discovery Hills and Valley], where they get their academic (lessons) and therapy. This change has helped him very much.

[The San Diego County school district operates Discovery Hills and Valley, where special-needs students attend classes and receive medical care and prescriptions at no cost to the family. A bus provides door-to-door service.]

We still struggle to make it through each month. We have had a couple rent increases and no cost-of-living increase. It's been hard.

I have to take my mother to all of her appointments, bathe her, feed her, administer her meds, and the list goes on. ... I had to quit my part-time job [as a home health aide] because I needed to be home more because of my mother and my son's conditions. David has grown A LOT, and doesn't have many clothes that fit him.

[David, now 16, is nearly 6 feet tall and 245 pounds, Walker said in an interview.]

I'm doing much better emotionally. I have a couple of excellent doctors, and am not as depressed as I was.

It's still a BIG struggle financially. Right now, we can't drive the car because the tags are expired, and I can't afford the registration fees. We barely make it through the month without running out of groceries. We have had to cut out anything we didn't HAVE to have, like the cell phones. I don't know how I'm going to find the money to get the tags renewed, and I am the only transportation for the three of us. Between my medical problems and David's and my mother's, we have quite a few doctor appointments every month, and no way to get there!

[Her mother put off an eye appointment this month, hoping to reschedule when the family has transportation again, Walker said. Walker uses an old baby stroller to carry groceries home from a store in her neighborhood. "People look at me funny, walking down the street with an empty stroller, but you gotta do what you gotta do," she said.]

I think it's hardest on David. He's a teenager, and needs things, like clothes that fit, to keep from getting teased at school. He's depressed lately because we can never go out to Jack in the Box, or the movies, or even just to 7-11 for a Slurpee, because there just isn't any money.

[The family subsists on Walker's Supplemental Security Income (disability) check and Woodruff's Social Security.]

So ... I am kept very busy taking care of David and my mother. I still have faith in God, and hope for things to improve, even if only slightly. Somehow, I'm holding this family together.

Thanks for taking an interest. Most of the time, it seems like nobody cares about us. I get down, but I always drag myself back up. Quitters never win, and winners never quit!

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Filed under: California • Economy • Jobs • Most Intriguing People • U.S.
soundoff (981 Responses)
  1. Mike

    I'm curious as to what is the mothers disability. Also where is the boy's father. The Kids get a door to door bus ride to school every day. The mother I'm betting gets SS Disability and the Grand Mother also gets disability. And now the son is disabled.
    BTW my son has Aspergers and functions pretty well. Knew a few other kids who have Aspergers and they also function pretty well. I wonder if you added up all their disability, SS payments, food stamps, money from the state etc how much these people get every month. I'm betting they get well over 3K per month in government payments.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Aspergers doesn't guarantee any kid disability, and there's no indication that this kid is getting any for his condition beyond support as a special-needs student. If you're going to comment, at least do it without making assumptions that you can't prove.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patty

      The grandmother would not be eligible for disability. Due to age, she would only be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, and that would be based on what her income was during her working years. People can't retirement and disability.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • LVK

      The first line of the the article says, "WIDOWED MOTHER" does that help you know where the father is. These people truly need some assistance...they are not burdening the system they just want to be able to drive to the doctor and eat.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • SeaBubbles

      First word of the article answers one of your questions: widowed. The father is dead.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liutgard

      Mike, Asperger's is one of those syndromes that has a spectrum. It is entirely possible that your son is on the functional end of it. It is quite possible (and likely) that this kid is on the end that is close to being autistic. If he's getting teased that much, it is very likely. And your assumptions about their income are way off.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • exactlyright

      Well dumb##s, considering "Widow" is in the headline of the article, the father has passed away. Maybe try reading the article before posting!

      August 25, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. megan

    Where can I send help to this family?

    August 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • CarmenSo

      Vote democrat. That is the only way to help this family.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. megan

    Where can I send help for this family?

    August 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • hannah01

      Maybe you can contact CNN for the info.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TL

    QUIT SMOKING! There's a start

    August 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |

    quit being a racist. I am not white but I make more money than you at running my own business. Do not judge lest ye be judged.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Abbyka

    I have a son with a form of autism as well, and the appointments alone can be staggering to the budget. Sure he's paid for by medicaid, but no one helps with the gas money to get him to and from these appointments. I had to stop going to the doctor for my severe depression and stop taking meds because I can't afford the gas to get to my appointments AND pay for my meds plus pay for gas to take my son to his appointments too. We live in a tiny town, there is no bus running for this kind of thing! Just trying to get both of my kids their school supplies and clothes this year was a struggle, I had to sell a lot of my belongings in order to do it. We're also supposed to get child support but we can never count on it, my ex goes through jobs like glasses of water so he pays when he's employed and doesn't when he's not. He's not for half the year most of the time! Things have been bad since my husband lost a great paying job almost two years ago, he's been under employed ever since and no one seems to be hiring around here, even the Burger King across the street's never called either one of us back.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Angel phoenix

    People need to get educated about disability. You are encouraged to try even part time. Many of you have no idea the dark veil our system covets via medicaid and foodstamps,DHHS programs and it protects drug dealers. Many on full SS disability do not qualify for foodstamps, ones on SSI get limited amount and food cost has risen. Welfare has changed except for children of dealers or illegals. People on disability do not get welfare. Gov housing whether it's section 8 voucher or other has a 3-5 year wait.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liutgard

      Angel Phoenix, you are dead on! Pat here has not got a clue, and a number of others are apparently making up numbers, because they are far off of reality!

      Now, I am very very very sorry- I accidentally hit the 'report abuse' on this comment- the page was not loading properly and I was trying to click on something else! CNN won't let me undo it! My fault! I hope they realize it was a mistake!

      August 24, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. BMC

    Can you send details on how we can help?

    August 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Walker

    that's a made up diagnosis, it's just caused by eating Wonder Bread and Twinkies, it's called malnutrition.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • David P. Kronmiller

      Not remotely. My wife and mother in law both work with kids with special needs – it's real – to not understand that is a problem. The causes are probably wide and varied – nutritional changes can sometimes help but not always and they don't solve all of the issues someone on the spectrum may encounter.

      This family by the way will read your comment – they will read the above article and most likely scroll down to the comments and see what you said. So just be mindful and respectful always.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geoff


      You're a complete a**.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CarmenSo

    "Im glad to is IF we are going to help anyone at least she is a white American" What the hell does that even mean? Im glad to is if? Shouldn't the "Superior" race have a better grasp of the English language? im glad to is IF . . .lol

    August 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Quasit

    We have become a nation of sociopaths. Let anyone DARE to be poor or unfortunate, and a howling mob will leap into the fray, happily accusing them of every fault under the sun. It's their fault they're poor, and anyway they're not "really" poor because they're not literally dying of starvation. And yet the rich in this country, this country of justice in which the gap between rich and poor has never been wider, are constantly portrayed as the downtrodden victims – because they still have to pay taxes, albeit at the lowest rate in almost a century.

    This country is on a hell-bound train, going directly over a cliff. Both political parties are at the throttle, following the commands of the billionaires and corporations who think that greed is the only good. And the lapdogs in the media are cheering the whole show on. Our nation has become a living obscenity. Things can't go on like this much longer.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • LBG

      Unfortunately everything you said is absolutely true. Saved me a bunch of typing. All the best to you in the years to come.

      To the family on this story: I feel for ya but get the heck out of California and you could afford to live on both your incomes in the midwest. You won't vaporize if you leave the state. Pick up and get the hell out of there and you can find a nice town where you could really live a comfortable life. Just my .02 cents. All the best to you 3.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tom wisconsin

    Some of you have not walked in this lady's shoes. How can you be critical of what she gets. You don't know what its like. Maybe if you did , you would have some spark of human compassion.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tina

    Everyone I talk to including myself with full time jobs is struggling. It's a tough world out there right now and it doesn't look like its going to get better anytime soon. Hoping for a change in the economy for all of us.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LJW

    I don't feel sorry for anyone that knows how to work the system and get all the perks by doing so. I have a sister in law on SSI and Medicaid that trains and rides horses and works under the table bringing in an extra $1000.00 a month grooming dogs in her home. Her husband is a retired teacher with a full penison. Our son is 28 years old was born with Hydrocephulus, is partially paralyzed on his entire right side. He works for Safeway and is only able to get maybe 28 hours a week. He is limited to what he can do for a job physically. He compensates by doing respitate care for disabled children for $10 an hour. With both jobs he barely makes 25,000.00 a year. Gas prices have put his expenses over tthe top. He DOES NOT qualify for any kind of aid, with his disability (food stamps or housing allowance.) He is the working and underemployed poor. He has VERY liimited choices in his life. He pays taxes but qualifies for nothing....Some of you need to get off your butts and find a lower paying job and try living off of those wages. It's an eye opener. Families need to help out NOT the Government.....

    August 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • suztoulouse

      He probably would qualify, but I know it's hard to get a straight answer from governmental agencies without wanting to bang your head against a wall first...if he still sees specialists at a hospital/healthcare facility, check with their financial aid people and ask them if they know of any programs that he may qualify for as far as food or housing allowances. They may exist. My daughter is still young, so I've not crossed that bridge yet. Good luck. It's hard, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Hugs.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JanetMermaid

    Wow. Just... wow.

    Did you just get off the Hitler Fan Club bus or something? The (Chinese-owned) laundry service just called - your white sheet and pointy hat are ready....

    August 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
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