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. L84AD8

    @Paul Revere:
    Are you kidding me?
    You're comparing Obama to
    Castro? You, sir, are a dolt.

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

    My son was the same size as David and I have clothes taht I would be happy to send to him. Please send details how I can help.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. gung hoe

    Communitapilist YOU stated my dear sir that you resided north of our border Well sir you and your brotherin have been quite a drain on our economy What with you people coming across our border and using our health system rather your socialist medicine Its that and other public programs that is a drain on our system Much more so than the republican and tea party

    August 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Can we help?

    Seems such a shame we have to read about this very sad situation and can not reach out and help. I would love to assist someone like this, if only I knew how to reach them.

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

      Yes, you can help. There are families like this one in every single community across the country. You can help in little ways or large. Most mainline churches are connected to the various charitable organizations who try their best to help and they are always grateful for help. That's where you should start if you aren't familiar with the names of the local groups. Depending on the organization, you can help with food donations, gently used clothes or toys, tasteful used furniture, or basics like shampoo and soap. You can even donate time. You could also ask if there's a specific family that's hurting and how you could help them.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Terry Coultas

    This isn't about Democrat vs. Republican it's about common sense. This family is in deed in need of help but why does that help have to come from the government. Why can't it come from relatives, friends, church, why immediately jump on the first response, putting your hand out to the Government? JFK said it best and every American should wake up in the morning and recite his statement. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". Come on people, and people here is defined as all of us with no separation of bureaucrats from the public, work together as a whole and dump the stupidity of partisan politics.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • suztoulouse

      Because we pay the government through our taxes to help support our communities. That's the society we live in, that has taken generations to create (by finding what works). My extended family/neighbors have no resources/knowledge/time to help a disabled child, neither does my church or most of my community. Does yours? Do you even KNOW what it involves daily, hourly, etc.??? When you have special needs people in your family, you're often on your own. People turn away. It's too hard for most. Thank goodness (and history) for government programs, our families need them (and the skilled people they employ) to help care for our family members and to help us juggle the countless responsibilities, so that others in the family can WORK FULL-TIME AND PAY TAXES. Make sense yet?

      August 24, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry Coultas

      Make sense yet? That sounds so typical of Government dependency.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nicole

    Yes, please let me know how to help!

    No one is perfect and we all go through hard times at various points in our lives. I am happy that I have always had a helping hand when I so desperately needed it.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Julieann

    As a mother of three children I also take care of my mother, who has dementia aand can be very difficult. They all have needs and resources are short. However, I buy our clothes at yard sales and Goodwill. Fortunately, we are rarely short on food. I don't accept any public support but we manage to get by. My mother gets her social security check and we are careful not to buy anything we don't need. My mother was a smoker for 50 years but since her dementia, she no longer smokes. She is convinced, with my help, that she quit 10 years ago! Now we have an extra $60 per month for food!

    August 24, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. suztoulouse

    Try to get a home-based/community care waiver through your Medicaid office, that way you can be paid the market rate for being a primary caregiver. Also check with your local Meals-on-Wheels program, many of them offer transportation services, meals and other services for the elderly, homebound, and/or disabled. Hang in there. Lots of us families with disabled children, parents, siblings, are hanging on by a thread (or what's left of the thread we barely had before...). The good news is, there may be help...as long as the politicians don't de-fund it! Use a friend's phone, or the phone at your son's school or at your church if you need to (hopefully they'll let you), makes some calls and you may find some relief.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Steve

    These women look like smokers. Do they smoke? They have that smoker look.

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

    If they're that poor, why aren't they on food stamps and the kid on free or reduced lunches? Also, why isn't a nearly 16 year old kid out cutting lawns, delivering newspapers, cleaning garages/basements, etc. to bring in some spending money to help out? He can earn the money to buy his own slurpies, the Library is filled with movies (or go to a discount matinee). He can buy his own blue jeans, etc.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • David P. Kronmiller

      His mom's disabled as is he. He may not be capable of mowing a lawn and his family may not own a lawn mower. And if you didn't notice they rent – from an apartment – so they don't necessarily live in a neighborhood where there are lawns to mow.

      I'm curious why of all the questions you just asked you didn't ask where his father was?

      The lack of compassion by some here is depressing and alarming. We need to do a better job in this country of education people who seem to not understand how to feel for each other. Who seem unable to see the world at all from someone else's point of view. It's not a skill people necessarily have naturally and in fact, ironically, one of the symptoms of autism is the inability to read facial expressions and body language – they literally can't tell if your mad or happy from how you hold yourself or what expression you have on your face. My wife, who teaches children with autism, has to use high affect in order to communicate them effectively.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • exactlyright

      Yes, apparently we do need to do a better job of "education" people. This is the conclusion I have come to after reading your grammatically faulty post!

      August 25, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. Montana

    What a bunch of mean spirited nonsense! If you don't have something nice to say....don't say anything at all! Of course I really don't understand why CNN deems this story news worthy as it could apply to probably 48% (or More) of the entire US population!

    August 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • DesertRat

      48%? Don't think so.

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

      48% sound about right.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • DesertRat

      48% of this country's people are not in this dire of a situation. Hurting, maybe, but not having to rely on government programs because everyone in the household is either elderly, disabled, or a minor.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. DCM Texas

    I'm with Kristen! Let's do something to help! Please contact me as well.

    To all you others that say she is WORKING the system or whatever....you must not have ever been a struggling parent. Maybe seek out a womens and childrens homless shelter in your area and volunteer!!! YEAH...do something FOR FREE!! It is not our place to judge ANYONE... get out there and make a positive difference in your community. It starts there!

    August 24, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whitney

      I would like to help. I also have a brother with Asperger's, two nephews, a neice, and my own 6 year old with high Functioning Autism. It is not easy, and for this mother to take care of herself, her mother, and her autistic son makes a strong woman. I will post this on all of the austism blogs, Facebook pages, and forums that I belong to in order to see if we can help at all. Please e mail me at my work at whitney.moulton@gmail.com and I will see what I can do to help. Even a gift certificate to a clothing store, or a local grocery store in their area. I am willing to do as much as I can from Salt Lake City, Utah!

      August 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Get a Life

    When was she disabled? Before or after she had her son? Where is her mothers savings or pension from her husband? What's with the magical thinking.? That is usually what poor forigners do as this country gives them more than theres ever did.
    I watched PBS 25 years ago and they had specials about the desimation of the middle class, AND the enviornment. I did not have children. I have struggled to support –myself. working with a disability
    What are all you people doing having children? Hello, edumacate yourself and stop complaining. This was ALL predicted. What part of America is toast did you not understand?
    I do not feel sorry for these people and i am sick of all the unconsciousness. Grow up!!! This ship sailed 25 years ago.
    America as we know it is OVER. Good luck.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moreen Hartz

      Get off your high horse much?

      August 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spelling Bee

      The fact that you couldn't even spell "foreigners" correctly in your dull-witted screed really speaks volumes.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. YoungTexan

    Wow. Thats one big dude. He reminds me of one of my high school acquaintances, a dude who was about 6 foot 5 and about 300 pounds. Talk about intimidating!

    August 24, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Incredulous

    I see across from this woman's picture, a picture of the Kim Kardashian wedding expose and if you can't look at these two things and see what is wrong with this country, you are absent a conscience.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
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