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. Kurt

    My heart goes out to this family, it truly does. I'm so glad our Savior of a president is making this economy better rather than worse.

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

    Nice one.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Concerned

    This family needs help...how do we do that?

    August 24, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Edwin Mtei

    Why would my tax dollar go to help her? I work hard not for others to sit at home and get a free check. I see nothing wrong with the woman, our system is broken and got taken advantage off with some lazy ...

    August 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris Robert

      Edwin, thank heaven this country was not built with people like you. I'm soooo glad you are such a success and need no help. I'm sooooo glad you don't have to stay home to take care of your parent. What you are is selfish. You have yours and you aren't willing to share. You probably don't know a single person in your neighborhood. You're so proud of yourself and your ability to take care of yourself that you have no compassion on those who can't.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • MichaelE

      our system isn't broken, our Congress is; it no longer works for the people. Half of Congress is willing to take the entire country hostage and go over the cliff just to try to unseat the current President! wow... that's some true patriotism on
      their parts... destroy your country, ruin the lives of fellow Americans and all because you love it too much to see
      a Black man as President. bravo.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • james

      Nothing wrong? She's disabled...

      August 24, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Enlil

    For those of you making comments based on the picture above (ie: the kid is too fat, they don't need a car, etc): while you're sitting in your affluent 3000 sq foot houses in suburbia and away from it all, who are you to judge? Perhaps if you couldn't get proper nutrition and all you could afford is cheap fast food, maybe you'd be large too. You drive your BMW's every day to work in a country where mass transit and walkable cities are hard to come by, yet you blow cars off as not being a necessity in such an environment. As for the comments about drinking and smoking? You'd probably be doing the same if you spent all day and all night wondering where your next nickel was coming from.

    Our country is becoming a hotbed of class warfare. The have's are taking from and criticizing the have-nots. Or at least that's what I see by reading the other comments in this article.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • John T

      You are right, Enlil. There are billionaires who own more houses than they can count, and they want further tax cuts than they already have so they won't have to help folks who are in such poor health that they can't work and are down on their luck. The disparity between the rich and the poor is greater now than it has ever been in our history, but the rich want even more. Enough is never enough for them. This family needs and deserves help.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Eating healty is no more expensive than eating fast food. Next time you are at the grocery store do the math. I am not making excuses, or being mean, it is the truth.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Bill. That is NOT the truth. Eating healthy is more expensive than not. Go to any super market and all of the cheap food is make with corn starch/syrup and fat. The really healthy stuff is expensive. Just one reason why Americans are over weight.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • WMof3

      stated Enlil.. "The have's are taking from and criticizing the have-nots."

      This family is apparently in need. It appears they are living on only SSI, social security, and assumably food stamps, but it is not meeting their basic needs. I do hope that they do catch the eye of local organized charities to provide additional food and direct them toward transportation assiatance.

      That said, so-called 'Haves' do not take anything FROM 'Have-nots'. They instead provide ALL of the taxes necessary to fund the programs that fully support this family. Instead of criticizing those who do go to work each day and pay a large portion of their income to the government for the support of all citizens, why not thank them for what they are providing. You do not know how many of these 'Haves' work multiple jobs, spent countless years in school to secure these higher paying jobs, and put off having children in order to build savings before they could be more outwardly comfortable in their 3000 sq ft homes & BMWs. Stop crticizing the only people keeping this economy afloatl!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kurt

      @ Enlil. We could kill two birds with one stone. Strap the overweight kid to a rickshaw. The kid looses weight, and the family has transportation. 🙂

      August 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kurt

      Well said WMof3.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Enlil

      "WMOF3": I love how there's the immediate assumption how I must not be one of those "have's."

      Sure, I pay taxes. I "keep the economy afloat." I graduated from college. And I've worked hard since then.

      But some of these uber rich "have's" are touting things such as their being job creators when they're doing no such thing. If anything, I've seen more layoffs in the news this past month. The GOP wants to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare so they can pass off the savings in the form of tax breaks to their rich friends. I would call that taking.

      Yeah, I would still say it's the "have's" taking from the "have-nots." And at the very least, the middle and upper classes are too busy making disparaging comments about the poor (AKA, some of the more unintelligent folks on this message board) to care.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Kurt

      @Enlil I'm not too unintelligent, I just fail to see how and why it is my responsibility to pay for those who are down on their luck. I came from a very poor family (yet we received no public assistance) and through making good grades and at times working two jobs, put myself through a good college and graduated with honors. Now, at 25, I own a 3500 sq ft home, have a new car, a pool table and several flat screen TVs on my walls. No one helped me get where I am; I did it through working my butt off and I continue to do so. Work ethic is what's lost on the American people these days.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. Enlil

    Ah, Wal-Mart jokes. Classy.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Suzy

    If I had an address then I wouldn't mind helping at all. I agree with the person that said they was sure there was other organizations that help that these people don't know about. Crisis Ministries if they have one near by is good for getting clothes and extra food because I am sure they qualify. They could talk to Red Cross about getting some clothes. This is such a sad situation.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Booboo

    I've seen poor people. They live is boxes. 5-year olds pan-handling. They go through garbage cans for food. List goes on.... I'm just saying... I hope these people get some help...but I wish they don't make it sound like their going to starve to death like those who are truly poor.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Exactly my point. If habits were changed, people would be surprised at how easy it is to eat healty, and have plenty of food.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. HK

    Granted, there are dishonest people that play the system. I personally know of some in my community that are on "disability" and get a monthly social security check, free medical care, and every other "benefit" they can get approved for. And some of these people are in better shape physically than I am. Their main focus is going to the doctor, the emergency room every time they sneeze, on and on just to be sure they are able to keep their "benefits". These people are the ones that are causing our social support system to fail due to being overloaded. But to lump everyone in a pile with the aforementioned people is called prejudice – pre judging them without knowing their situation. I think some of the negative comments on here are just that, judging them based on people they have knowledge of. To kick someone when they are really down, and not just taking advantage of the system, is really cruel. Karma is a b^tch. If you plant corn, you will harvest corn. Be careful of what you say, it WILL come back to you, multiplied. I wish this family well and will pray for them tonight.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathaniel

      Not all disabilities and disabling conditions are physical. MANY disabilities are neurological, phycological, or psychiatric. One must bear this in mind; you don't know what is going on with someone just by looking at them. Someone may appear to "be in better physical shape" than you, but what do you know? Do you know what Bipolar is? Epilepsy?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. WitsEnd

    Posting this msg in the hope that CNN will later send me a link to donate.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melanie

      I second that!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miriam

      I third that. Why not post a contact link for donations in the first place?

      August 24, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Don't judge

    If that family's idea of splurging is going to a movie or getting a Slurpee, they are financially in dire straits. That you make fun of that only proves that you are an inconsiderate, unsympathetic, heartless idiot.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. kevin

    lots of mean, ignorant comments, Rush has you brainwashed, and lets see how you might think after living in her shoes for a couple of months.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Suzy

    I guess I do have one question though..not saying this family doesn't need help but how did CNN find out about this family? I mean did they family contact CNN and say "Hey can you do an article on me because I need help" or what?

    August 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • fritzz

      Your scepticism is well founded but does it matter how this came about. America is coming to a very sad stage you had better learn to share.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Phil

    God bless. I am helping out some family members in order for them to make ends meet due to some unexpected problems of their own. It is never easy.

    I recently upgraded my car, and feel so guilty about it. I didn't increase my payments, just the fact that they will not end in 18 months.

    But then again, and no offense, I busted my @ss off in college and went through three years of sleepless nights studying and working part time jobs. I paid my dues to get an education and earn a good income. There are plenty of people who are living off of us because they were too lazy to study during high school. And there are plenty of people who have a string of bad luck that has kept them down. It is hard to tell one from the other sometimes.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nolongerdem2

    What is interesting is what is not mentioned. She was 37 when she had her son. What did she do before that? She has been a part time care taker, did she ever work full time? What is her history, even if in brief form. Has she ever been a productive member of society? What is her illness? These questions should have answers since she is on a public stage. Do the taxpayers pay her housing? I would like the full story before I give any sympathy. I think if she had been a productive member of society, CNN would have released the facts.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
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