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. Nightlight

    You have family to help you? Congratulations! Not everyone does. Wake up!

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

      Thank you. If someone has family to help, that's the route they should start with. But if not, and in situations like this, THAT'S when the government needs to step in.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Shane G

    This is what I don't understand about Millionaires/billionaires in this country. If you finally reached the point where you have at least over 10 million sitting around in a bank account..why can't you take 1 million of it and help people up front. Not just donate it all to one single charity..but actually go out on the streets..talk to neighbors..find out who is struggling and help them. Just think how much only $5,000 out of that million could make a huge difference to this family. Now think of all the other families you could help with that million.

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

      Because I'm pretty sure most people who are broke don't have the financial knowledge or capacity to correctly hold onto $5000. Not commenting on this woman's situation specifically. There's a reason many people are broke.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. L84AD8

    @Pat: the rich who make 80k a year? Those checks totalling 30k a year? Where the hell can I get a ride on that bandwagon? Sources, please!

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

    She should be getting a social security check for her son if it was his father who is deceased. If not, see about getting one for his disability. Did her mother's social security check start coming to the house when she moved in?
    How about having another kid and then getting welfare, I hear this is a popular thing to do.

    Want to hear a real hardship story, my family had to move to another state when our school district told my son he could not go to some of his classes and he could only use the nurse's restroom because he reported for over two years that he and other white kids were being threatened and assaulted by african american kids. We are refugees in the united states.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jigsaw1975

    I feel sorry for the family but in situations like this, why live in california? Move to Missouri or Arkansas where rent is like $400 a month for a 2 bedroom....even if son and mom work minimum wage, they can make ends meet.
    regardless, i wish i cud help

    August 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • YoungTexan

      Naww move to Texas! Here in a small town you can get a 3 bedroom 1 bath house for between 400-500 a month! Texas is a great place to live anyway!

      August 24, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • DesertRat

      Don't forget that the funds they receive from the government changes depending on locale. Lower cost of living in an area equals lower benefits in most cases.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Candy

    I never knew such evil existed until I've seen real live blogs from people on the internet.. Some of you people are cold hearted to the core.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Big Jeff in L.A.

    Posting this only because I couldn't find an email for the article's author- I 6'4", recently dropped 50 lbs and have clothes that no longer fit me.

    I was going to just donate them to one of the local Goodwill's, but If the author or someone from CNN would contact me via the email I provided, I would be more than happy to box them up and send them down for her son.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. kristin

    how can i help? can i send some clothing or a care package?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Earthy1

    Her son is old enough to actually get a part time job- thought I don't know how his autism would affect that.
    I was working at 15 – It took me 6 months to find a job in 2008 (overqualified) I have two teenage daughters and no other family or support – I don't qualify for govt standard for anything – I'm sorry – but I just don't understand the story. In times like these you really can't limit yourself to one area- if you can't find work where you live you need to start combing the entire usa and do what ever you gotta do.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • suztoulouse

      When you are responsible for 2 special needs people, you need caregivers before you can work outside of the home for ANY wage. Skilled caregivers for special needs people often cost $30/hour (and worth every penny, usually). Do that math and figure out how YOU would budget it. NO, you can't call "the sitter up the street"...that's how ABUSE happens - all the time. Without a government program paying for a caregiver, you can't work outside the home. Period. Why people can't/won't understand this is beyond me.

      When you have chronically ill and special needs family members, they often have a network of therapists and doctors that they need to be in contact with (EACH doctor & therapist)/visited by monthly (at least). You can't pick up and move that entire network somewhere for a $10/hr. job with no benefits. When one is committed to their family, and the needs of their family, especially in Special Needs situations, there's no independent decisions to be made - every decision is complex and collective. You do the best you can with the resources you can find...if that resource is just YOU, well, you're limited, no matter how smart, savvy or hard-working you may be.

      Government programs have a place in these situations....an absolutely necessary place. Let us have some peace - even if you don't understand our lives/families and NEVER WILL understand the complexity of our lives/families. We're devoted to our family and doing the best we can...will you ever understand THAT? If we're lucky enough to find a decent-paying job outside our homes that give us flexibility to run to appointments and get our special kids off the bus daily (because nobody else can), still let us have skilled medical daycare during summer breaks when we need it, and skilled caregivers that can come to our home when our kids get too sick for school...because gas is expensive and we still have to keep our jobs.

      No, you don't understand. Yet. But try. Thanks.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. amber

    Reading through these comments I get the sense that quite a few people lack empathy. What ever happened to if you don't have something nice to say then keep it yourself. I don't know this family, but all I hear is go mow a yard or do this or that. People from all over are feeling the pinch in these times. I sent an email out to CNN to figure out where the help can be sent to. I will be helping this family for the sake of the teen.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JROCk

    I've been there. It's a sad day when you barely have enough to survive. I remember having nothing left in the house except for potatoes eggs and tortillas. It was a sad sorry meal. It's when the daily expenses outweigh the income that people begin to despair.

    Keep strong folks and I hope people are able to help. These people deserve it.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Monica from Victoria, BC

    Has anyone watched, "Secret Millionaire"?? If more well to do people would take ONE week out of their lives and get back to 'reality' this world would be a much better place. I would love to be able to help this family out. Why are most people so greedy these days?? Look at the GOP, all about big money, big corporations, screw the little guy... disgusting. We will ALL be judged in the end. Help your fellow citizen out. Trust me, it will make you feel better than anything money can buy.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Woodrow

      You had to go there (political), didn't you. Dems control the White House, the Senate, and had the House for Obama's first 2 years...and had the House and the Senate for the last 2 years of the Bush administration...and you had to blame a family's hardship on the GOP. Just shameful ... and completely dishonest. Obama is rich, and his charitable donations are pathetic. His friend, Immelt, who runs GE found a way to keep GE from paying taxes. Then there's Obama's friend Buffett, whose altruistic talk of paying more income taxes is nothing but hipocritical since he's planned his way through tax deductions and loopholes and is avoiding taxes wherever he can. Geitner, Obama's Treasury Secretary, cheated on his taxes. Rangle, former chair of the Ways and Means committee that establishes IRS rules, has cheated repeatedly on his taxes. But, you want to just hold the GOP up as greedy. Until you can acknowledge the problems in the people that you back (no doubt the ultra-liberal in Canada and for some reason you follow U.S. politics), you are more dishonest than the broad-brushed attack you made on those conservatives whose main agenda is to get this country to live in its means.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JuniperTree1901

      Google "Canada is America's hat"

      August 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      I don't know why we have to single out either Democrats or Republicans. Both have power and both have failed this country. It really doesn't matter who controls Congress, or the White House, most politicians, particularly lifers, are in it strictly to make money (mostly by helping donors and lobbyists make money.) No one can honestly say that the majority of politicians in this country are interested in helping people or better this country. They want a piece of the pie, great health benefits, and pensions that the average American could only dream about. They continue to bicker and posture, distracting us from the fact that neither party has any real grasp of economics, foreign policy, or domestic policy. The grades most politicians got in college are appalling, they are constantly making false statements, quoting incorrect figures, and yet they are responsible for making decisions that affect us all. Policy (or lack there of) is made (by both parties) simply to undermine the other. If you think this country will ever be "great" again, you are sorely mistaken.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tray2000

    this is the future of america, world trade agreements have sent all of the well paying jobs to china, where companies can pay slave wages to workers. america does not produce anything anymore, but dept and wars. How is that change working out for you?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • wanda

      You can thank GW and Cheney for invading Iraq under false pretenses. How's that generational theft for ya!

      August 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gary

    I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to think about this article. Not to be too much of a douch, but the government IS taking care of the folks. SSD, Medicare, Social Security, special ed, and I assume Medicaid & food stamps. All probably justified in this case. They are not living well, but hey government programs are not designed for that. So, what is the point of this thing?

    August 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • gloria

      You are an idiot!

      August 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry


      How poor should those dependent on these programs be?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  15. Richie Rich

    What about my money? People think it is easy being rich, and that we corporate wealthy have it so, so easy. Well, let me tell you, you try go out two times a month and giving up 5% of everything your illegal employees have made you, just to grease the wheels of some politician's campaign chest. Then all these bleeding heart folks want you to pay more than the 15% taxes the government is already taking from me. Then, you hire a tax attorney for another 3% to see that you are able to take advantage of every dodging loop hole, when I already had to paid the politician to vote for that loop hole. That is only leaving me with 77%. How could you peasants possibly know what it is like to live with the shame of having a 45' yacht when the others in your club all have 50' or longer. How could you people know how it feels to listen all night while your wife cries, because she showed up at the weekly bridge game at the country club, driving last years Bentley, and half the other ladies have arrived in their new Rolls. We are all hurting people, but it's obvious that we rich are taking the brunt of it.

    August 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • mrX

      Hey Richie Rich, if bein' rich is SO hard then try slumming it for a while! If that doesn't do it give all your money away and see how much "easier" it is to live in poverty.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Woodrow

      MrX – you're a moron. He was being sarcastic.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |

      I cannot believe you would have the audacity to put this comment in here. If you like s***ing of people I'm sure you can do it somewhere else. Although by the sounds of it you probably do every day to maids and other subservient people. Whom without them you wouldn't have clean cloths on your back or food in your stomach. I'm happy for you that you have the joy to have the finer things in life (even if they are a year old). BUT GET A GRIP. Have some humanity and just don’t say anything at all if it is just going to hurt someone else.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Woodrow

      RuKIDDING – seriously, there can't be this many stupid people here. "Richie Rich" was being sarcastic.

      August 24, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
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