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. B Ross

    Explain to me how you have no money to buy a slurpee but you have a 16 year old who weights 245 pounds. There's obviously no shortage of food. Not buying it.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      Be kind . In a perfect world everyone would have what they need in our imperfect world some people have to do without so others can have more than they need. If the Golden Rule doesn't apply anymore then we are in deeper trouble than even I thought. Be kind....... What ET forgot to say in the film.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kate

      The son probably gained so much weight because cheap food (rice, noodles, canned meats, bread, peanut butter) is FATTENING! Just because someone is over weight doesn't mean they are eating well, for sure. Healthy foods like vegetables and fruits are going sky high, so anyone that says there's no food shortage for this family is an idiot. Same for the jerk that made the nicotine patch comment. Just because you made it, doesn't mean others have the same opprtunities you did. Plus an elderly mother with failing health and a handicapped son? I can't believe there is not more state funding available...oh, wait- yes I can.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gatelock

      Some kids with Asperger's have eating issues and eat only certain foods. Please do not judge someone for their size. I know you are not overweight, or too short, or too tall, or too old, or too wrinkled for your age. It must be great to be you.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Enlil

      Of course, you fail to mention the fact that usually the cheaper the food, the less expensive. Who can afford gourmet chicken salads with walnuts and honey mustard vinagrette when you're below the poverty line?!

      Go back to your happy little trees, Mr. Ross.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jake

    Any body that makes less than 50,000 a year and votes Republican needs thier head examined....The middle class are the targets in a downturn or recession. The rich sit back and tell you they are the job creators.....Ill tell you what, without workers the rich have nothing to make thier corporations function. They took most of thier jobs to Communist China. They are the ones that caused this finanical meltdown is not the middle class!

    August 24, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • RonFromNM

      Anybody who votes for EITHER party, Dem or Repub needs their head examined. We need a viable third party

      August 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rs1201

    I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that the 16 yr old weighs in at 245 lbs. What's that all about? As to the grandmother, she should be put in an assisted living arrangement which would be paid for by Medicaid. The daughter could then go look for a job. It would help her depression and she would have some money in her pocket. The 16 yr old could also find a part time job. Lots of stores will hire disabled people and cut them a lot of slack. This family is not being proactive in helping themselves. Everyone is in a difficult situation these days and everyone should be doing the best they can to help themselves.
    As to the reader who posted that poor people get a lousy education in America...that's a lot of hot air and nonsense. Need I remind that moron that President Clinton's family lived in trailers. Yet, he rose to become a Rhodes Scholar and President of the United States of America.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • janet

      You must have never had to suffer a day in your life....Did you read the article??? This can happen to anyone of us....how can you sit there and judge this family.....I for one would like to donate to them....make sure you buy a blanket to keep that cold heart of yours warm...

      August 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Me

      First of all the weight could be caused by numerous medical conditions or as side effects from his medications. Second of all, have you ever been in an Assisted Living facility that accepts medicaid patients versus private pay? Most of the living conditions in said facilities are deplorable at best so I can understand why the person decided not to put her mother in one of them. It's easy to be negative and assume the worst but realize you're looking at things from a myopic point of view. Yes people abuse the system but not everyone.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry

      So a viable alternative to being at home with a family member that actually gives a darn about you is to be warehoused in a minimally state funded assisted care facility?

      As dickens said, are there no prisons? are there no workhouses?

      And we all know there are so many jobs for 60+ widows these days>

      August 25, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Gatelock

    Many of us want to send this family some help. That would be awesome. I think whatever we send them would run out but the feeling of hope the gift would carry might last a lifetime. That is what matters.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jpbrody

    I'm serious when I ask this . . . I just want to get someone else's take.

    This lady's situation is tragic, desperate. Is there any solution for this? Aid helped her a little while, now the situation is extremely bad again. She gets some public assistance, which does not seem like enough.

    So is there an answer? Continue to support her through public largesse? If anyone needs it, she certainly seems to. Job training? In what? Would she get a job? Could she, given her mother's condition?

    I just get perplexed about these things, because I believe that public assistance is often misused and abused, and rarely seems to deal with core issues. But in this case, where it seems warranted, is there no other solution but continued assistance?

    August 24, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Val

      I feel for this family! There are alot of us that are in these kind of situations in Ind. where there are few jobs. The ones of us that have a job is supporting 3 or more family member who can't find one. The ones of us that do have jobs are paying insurance that take one of my paychecks (and I only get 2 a month). So I have to find whatever extra work I can fine. The first job just pays insurance. And you hope please don't let anyone in this house who has no insuance get sick!!
      It's all you do is worry. Just hope you can make it month to month. And we don't wast money on bad habits. Use coupons anything to get by. And yes we are educated people. When you don't have money you by whats checp we it come to food. To fill your stomahe and it isn't always the healthest but healthy cost more.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gatelock

      I sense your frustration. What can a person like this do? Scary.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry

      The sad truth is no, this family will need ongoing support. This is a perfect storm of the aged, the disabled and the those with a mental illness all living together. In fact supporting them altogether is most likely the most economic way to handle these specific needs.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  6. jake

    Talk to the Oxyman /drugster he will tell someone like that to get off thier Azz and get a job. Or Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity or any of the rejects on Fox & Freaks.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. km

    As a parent of two children with aspergers syndrome I know well the stress if places on the entire family. I feel very fortunate that my wife and I have the financial means to give our children the kind of support that may one day help them overcome some of their challenges.

    Hoping that more details are given on how to donate to the Walker family. Count me in....

    August 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gatelock

      km, I hear you. A kid with special needs is enough to destabilize anyone's life.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nice Person

    Knowing acronyms such as SSIDI indicate that only a disgruntle SSA employee would post an in appropriate comment. To keep the integrity of all SSA programs those who work for the agency should keep their thoughts and comments to them self about personal case that they may be working on. Weesnaw next time please learn to be kind to other like your parents, teacher’s, elders taught you growing up. People like you are the reason why kids in school today are bully’s, they are not taught how far a kind word, smile or even a hello goes.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. amber

    What is wrong with you people? Empathy, people, how can you sit there and judge someone. Somehow I hope that all the positive things said here today outweighs the negative. I feel shame that my fellow Americans are so easy to judge. I do not care if she smokes. I know this teen didn't ask to be brought into this world, and I fell for him. Help I know is on the way. Stay strong

    August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      What is wrong with people? The answer is obvious: people are cruel. People are selfish. Most people do not care for those who are not close to them, or are different from them. They would rather criticize someone else for suffering from a disease or for being poor, than really try to help them at all.

      Helping is messy and uncomfortable. It is far easier to sit back in your comfortable surroundings, eat a good meal and turn on an entertaining TV program. But that makes some people feel a little bad, so they post a snide comment to help themselves feel better about not getting involved.

      Please never become like that.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TexasWombat

    I really feel sorry for this family, but I can't help feeling that they would have an easier time stretching the monthly grocery allotment if they did not feed junior's jack-in-the-box and slurpee addiction. By the same reasoning, they also would not have to keep buying larger sizes of clothing for him. Eat the salad, not the jumbo jacks. Just trying to help.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      If you wanted to help (and could read), you would know they no longer CAN go to jack-in-the-box or 7-11. So their monthly grocery allotment already doesn't include those things.

      You might also (if you kept up on things) understand that junk food is far cheaper than healthy food, so poor people eat it (since they cannot afford good food). For example, a bottle of coke is cheaper than an equivalent amount of milk. One reason he MIGHT be heavy is because his diet is poor, from eating cheap foods. There are other possible reasons as well. But if you ACTUALLY wanted to help, you might DO something other than post rude comments on the internet.

      Get involved with some poor people. Maybe not these people, maybe some in your own city. If you ACTUALLY want to help, DO SO:
      1. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
      2 Give old clothes or other goods to Goodwill.
      3. Donate canned food to a local food bank.
      4. Offer to give rides to elderly or handicapped people in your neighborhood (churches are good ways to find out about this one).
      5. Give money to charities that help people, like United Way.
      .
      .
      .
      the list could go on, but I am sure you get the idea.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gatelock

      Again, some kids with Asperger's have eating issues. Please do not judge. I have 15 years of experience with this. Please talk to a parent with a child with Asperger's. Things are really complicated sometimes.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lynn P.

    There are so many people living "on the edge" financially. Every month is a struggle, and they may have some choices for improving their situation, or maybe they don't. Not knowing any more than what this article said, it seems that the child is in a program during the day for education, so he is not home. The mother has health issues, but it does not seem that the daughter must be there every minute unless she has dementia. As one poster stated, Mom could go to assisted living, and the state will pick up most of the tab. Sometimes, though, the family would rather stay together, and pool what money they have. If the mother went to assisted living, they would not have enough to live on without her. They undoubtedly get food stamps, which helps a whole lot. Transportation for the elderly is provided by the county or by the state for the disabled, so she can get to the doctor for free or a dollar or two. Their arrangement is actually saving the government money, because with the mother there, the state doesn't have to pay for an assisted living. They are struggling, but they are together, and that is how they want it. Many, many people in exactly the same situation.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Stephen Gadsden

    I don't have a lot of money, but they sound as if they could use a hand. How do I send them some cash?

    August 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Laura

    To the people who insist the kid should just go look for a job, you're forgetting that our country has a high unemployment rate, and most companies would rather hire someone with experience (and with no disability) than a 16 year old kid. Even still, people who ARE experienced have found it impossible to find work for years, and a number of those folks would be more than happy to take a minimum wage position (that, historically, teenagers used to fill) As for his weight, remember that cheap food is unhealthy food. Most people don't buy food that is good for them and goes a long way (beans, grains, etc.) they buy packaged foods with high fat and salt contents that make them feel better when they're depressed (which is often, I'd imagine) and is engineered to make you crave more (high fructose corn syrup anyone?) We assume that poor/hungry people are skin and bones, but EBT cards and food stamps can be used in grocery stores to buy whatever, and unfortunately many people use them for fattening foods. When you don't have much, a Stouffer's mac n' cheese is an easy way to raise your spirits. People who have substantially more money also fall prey to that.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexasWombat

      Do we really think that this kid is college material? He is already siphoning the benefits of the system through state-provided therapy (no offense intended), so let us plan a path toward self sufficiency: hard (probably manual) work in a warehouse, meat packing facility, factory, etc. beginning today. No need to complete public school; he can join the 50% of US high school students who fail to graduate. There is no reason to coddle him with pretensions of an easier life in the future (but I am all in favor that he continue his therapy). The state-sponsored social safety net is about to unravel anyway.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Severinus

      Dear Texaswombat, Asperger's syndrome is not retardation. If anything, David is probably more intelligent than an average person, not less. With the right help he certainly could get through college and be a very productive member of society. You on the other hand, are exactly what is wrong with America today – merciless, quick to judge without a full knowledge of the facts, and all too ready to write people off, which costs society more in the long run.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      TexasWombat: do you know ANYTHING about Asperger's syndrome? I guess not, so you assumed he was mentally deficient.

      Most people with Asperger's syndrome have very high intelligence. One of the very best students to graduate from my university's math department has it.

      Perhaps instead of sticking him in a meat packing factory, it might be better to train him to design microprocessor chips. Or is it too hard for you to imagine that somebody living on public assistance could someday be successful or even change the world for the better?

      August 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aprilsfire

      Not sure exactly what point you are trying to make, but i have to ask you this after reading about the way you talked about this 16 yr old weight and the families eating habits: Have you personally ever tried to buy FRESH foods and veges instead of "junk" food for 3 people on 200.00 a month in food stamps? Because I have and you cant. The people on food stamps don't neccessarily want to eat the cruddy food that they get, but its all they can afford if they want to eat all 30 days of the month instead of just 10 days.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      Agreed on the "cheap food often unhealthy food" – and it's sometimes the only food we can afford. I'll add that it is not easy caring for a teenager with autism AND caring for an elderly relative at the same time. Sometimes we have to make decisions we don't like but maybe we don't have other options that work for our situation. She has her hands full. Give her credit for what she's doing – that's a whopper of a job already. So he's in a day facility – autism has its own issues that carry "storms" of its own. Judging is useless and hurtful and only perpetuates myths and political arguments among families of children with autism. We have enough challenges already.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      I am relieved to see that some here have an understanding of Asperger's also ..... (some – not all). There is hope after all.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZeeBeeDee

      Hey TexasWombat, I have asperger syndrome and I graduated from High School, College, and earned an advanced degree. Me thinks that YOU are one of those chumps who never even went to college given how dense you are.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jose

    I want to give a donation directly to Deborah Anne Walker but I wonder where the money really goes if I give it to the church. With so much deceit going on these day, who's to know for sure. I've never been one to donate to those charities on TV for fear of losing the money to some corporate hog. So how can we donate directly to this lady? Surely someone must have an address so we can send her money. But I know it's not enough. It's never enough. What about the millions of others suffering just like Deborah. The silent ones that no one hears. There must be millions of desperate people out there. If only we could hear from them, help them. It's daunting.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • HEIDI

      You know I've been on the phones for charity donations for quite some time. I've heard too many times of the intention to help out, yet people do not as these people are unsure of where the money goes to... Fair enough. But if you honestly wanted to help, you would find her name listed in the yellow pages.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. Renee Marie Jones

    "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."

    It is because the poor, disabled, and seniors support the Republican party. It is that simple.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wait a minute...

      Last time I checked, Barack was a Democrat.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Wait a minute: yes, the president is a democrat. But Congress is controlled by the GOP. And big corporations (who apparently are people) have enough money to guarantee their re-election. Modern political theory can virtually pinpoint how many million dollars are needed to guarantee an election, and companies have enough money at stake to want to buy as many legislators as they can.

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