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. Amber

    I completely believe that it is not the responsibility of the upper class to fend for the needs of the poor. If someone takes the time to go attend college for X amount of years, and get a proper education, it is NOT their job to be forced to pay higher taxes. ....However, I also believe that as a true American, one SHOULD help others out who truly need it out of the goodness of their hearts...Hell even to those in other countries.This is a family that sincerely needs the money, my heart goes out to them and the strength the poor mother has kept up by herself trying to take care of her loved ones.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • jding

      Some people are not fortunate enough to go to college for "x amount of years". Many families living in poverty must ask their children to cut their education short in order for them to attempt to make money for the family. As you can see this would only proliferate a cycle of generations of a family being stuck in poverty. I don't think by saying your "heart goes out to them" is going to put food on their table, however millionaires being taxed to pay for welfare will...

      August 25, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Regina

      Amber are you high? I mean really. "If someone takes the time to go attend college for X amount of years, and get a proper education, it is NOT their job to be forced to pay higher taxes." Do you understand that there are people who don't have enough money PERIOD. And, I'm not talking just because of the current economic situation. The poor are always with us. We choose to ignore them or assume that will never be me because I have a "proper education." And what in the bloody hell is a "TRUE American!" Why don't you start focusing on being a "HUMAN BEING!"

      August 25, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • meems

      Higher education is not available to all people. And higher education does not promise a good paying job and job security. Look at teachers. Where would the world be if there were no teachers? And yet, American gov't decides this is the first place to make cuts when there isn't enough money to fund the war on "terrorism". And teachers are losing their jobs in masses. Think of the students. Those who are filty rich who have earned most of it through greed (hmmm, politicians to start with?) should be taxed. A small percent of Americans have the majority of U.S. money. And the middle class and poor are expected to do more with less. Maybe you should invest in higher education?

      August 25, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • chicinpink

      Amber, what to you is the "upper class"? Please be specific. I hope you don't think that just because you went to college you are part of the "upper class."
      to me, the upper class has no employer, they are the employer, do you have an employer? do you work overseas, china, bangladesh, dominican repuplic, sri lanka...?

      August 25, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Texan

      There are government programs that we pay for so that people may go to college with no out of pocket cost. My husband and I are raising two kids and both going to college. He is the only one working because we have NO ONE to help watch our children. I am very close to completing my Bachelors of Science in Nursing. He is half way done with a criminal justice degree. My point is she is just saying that there is help and it is possible for everyone to go to college. I do feel sorry for these people but cannot understand why you are attacking Amber as she has said nothing wrong. Just and FYI on my story, we live paycheck to paycheck and do not go out at all. Sacrifices have to be made to provide ourselves and our children with a better life. I agree that when my husband and I get finished with college and are living comfortably that we should not have to pay higher taxes for someone else's problems. Help, yes but handout, NO!
      “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime."

      August 25, 2011 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • sciihs 1958

      Regina – get off your high horse for a moment. We as Americans have spent over 4 TRILLION DOLLARS on the war on poverty and all that has happened is an increase in the number of people who are classified poor. Throwing money at the problem is NOT working.

      Instead of saying the poor will always be with us lets try to figure out HOW to prevent a situation such as this from happening.
      What would encourage Katherine to have managed to set aside a bit of money for her golden years?
      Would encourage Deborah to have obtained an education which would have allowed her to obtain a higher paying job with some benefits?
      What will encourage David to become a productive citizen instead of joining the ranks of the disabled and drawing government assistance for his life?

      August 25, 2011 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. ObamaBinLaden

    The "journalist/reporter" for CNN should do their job and ask the tough questions. This woman should be working. She should not be considered disabled. She has all her limbs and can drive a car. She is not blind or deaf. She is just a leech living off the hard working men and women of America.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |

    She should shop in thrift stores; they have nice clothes for great prices.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • pishposh

      Toonces, Do you understand n o m o n e y ? What does no money mean to you? Please, tell us.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Delia

    ANDI I hope that someday you get to walk a mile in this womans shoes....

    August 25, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. EDC

    How very sad! It breaks my heart to hear how many people are suffering in this economy. America is a great country, and it is within our ability to make our society better. Unfortunately, we lack the social, political and economic will to make meaningful changes. Where are we headed?

    August 25, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. onigiri

    Judge NOT but help any who are troubled and struggling.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. joeincal

    i'm currently living in a $350 small room in california. i have a part time job and a 8 year old truck that is my only priced asset. i broke with my girlfriend because she was not willing to struggle with my (or ours) economic condition. i live happily but i get stressed out when i have the irs and the tax board after me for backtaxes. i learned to live a peaceful frugal live. my point is that if i can do it so can anyone. go out and sell newspaper or paint homes or whatever. i just hated when people are so lazy and hope that a divine rod will fall down so you can get all you want. forget it.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
    • ZeeBeeDee

      Wow,american women are quite the golddiggers aren't they. If you lose your job, your woman is gone with the wind. But did you not realize that this woman is DISABLED and can't just get out there and go paint peoples houses or sell newspapers(a dying business in case you hadn't noticed). You really should count your blessings that you HAVE a job you're able to support yourself with.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Do You Even Lift

      ZeeBeeDee, this woman can walk, see, hear, etc... She is perfectly capable of getting a job like everyone else.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Gigi

      Since you are so frugal go take care of the woman's sickly 82 year old mother and her autistic son so she can GO BACK TO WORK. She had to quit because she had to take care of her mother. She is also sick. What do you expect of her? What if it were your son, your mother? Oh, I know, you would tell them too bad, you lost your heart and your head as well.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. HEIDI

    Tom, she is listed in the yellow pages. Directly...God Bless you. You are wonderful!

    August 25, 2011 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  9. e quake

    aftershock right now in V.A....

    August 25, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. marthaj03

    For anyone that is really interested in helping, according to the article, she is Deborah Ann Walker from Vista, California. Shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what to do with that information. Good luck to the family and I'm sure any help will be sincerely appreciated.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  11. David

    It's so sad that people have to comment on this with negativity towards this poor woman. People berating her about how she needs to go to college and how it's not the responsibility of the upper class to take care of her are really pitiful. There's a quote that those people should think about– "Whoever made humanity, will find no humanity here." We live in a society dominated by thoughtless and rude individuals. It truly is unfortunate.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Do You Even Lift

      I am working to support this lazy woman and her brood? U must be joking. She isn't disabled. CNN should do some investigative reporting.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
    • AGeek

      "it's not the responsibility of the wealthy" ...then they can kiss my @$$. "Trickle-down economics", anyone? Tax breaks so the corporations and wealthy will create jobs? The GOP has crammed so much bullsh-t down the throat of Main St. America that we can't even swallow now.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. Arrrrgh

    Ouch. Anyway we can donate directly to that family?

    August 25, 2011 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. living a simple life is not proverty

    Asperger's and Autism is a "CHOICE" that deserve respect not a tag placed by collective as "dis-ease" or "dis-order", they are fine just as their own right, a forceful therapy ain't do ANY good, PLEASE.
    because, I am an Asperger(while my bro was once diagnosed Autism sort) and I feel perfectly fine with it only wish they don't tag me(lev me alone), categorize me and tease that I carried an "illness" that by majority standard should be out-of-normality, and be fixed? I do NOT ALLOW.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  14. hmmmm

    Doesn't look good for the mother and grandmother or the son. These people will always be on social assistance. That said I hope there comes a day they can get out of their spiral downward. Compared to other people in the world, they have food, shelter, medical care, each other and the possibility of things getting better.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. dave

    You know, I empathize with this family's struggles, BUT, if the 16 year old kid is 6' and 245 pounds, something is not okay...unless he's playing left tackle for the San Diego Chargers. First things first–if you're struggling financially, you cut back on food. Even though I'm certain this kid's eating a lot of cheap fast-food and low-priced frozen meals, there are alternative ways to nourish yourself at a reasonable price without sacrificing your daily nutritional requirements. If he keeps this up, his obese health issues will be a bigger burden on this family.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Caring Person


      First, 100% chance that David is on medicines, and most of them cause weight gain. Google the meds that a person
      with Asperger's might take and you will find out that is the simple truth.

      2nd, when you are poor and living on food boxes and little fruit/produce, it affects your weight. Simple fact. You get the baked
      goods that the stores give out just before the dates expire, cans of stuff, canned vegies, lots of pasta and powered milk,
      and peanut butter. Those things put weight on.

      3rd, YOU have NEVER experienced what this family has-----so go volunteer at a homeless shelter and see how
      the world really is. Actually, I'd bet $20 that you have never volunteered for ANYTHING your whole selfish life.

      4th, it is my personal opinion that you are a piece of living ****. One of those folks who take up space and contribute
      nothing to society.

      5th, if you EVER find yourself heading in a downward spiral, then you had better do something fast, because you do
      NOT have what it takes to survive. This family knows how bone hard it is. You would not last a week.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
    • amobius

      Hey "caring person" I guarantee that he probably contributes more to society than these people who have a negative net impact on society.

      August 25, 2011 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
    • less angry caring person

      Caring Person! You resorted to calling Dave a name for contemplating the food choices of the poor. Your assumptions are angry and seem to come from a dark place. Perhaps Dave grew up poor. I did. My problem with this woman is the multiple times she explains what they can't pay for. That same family lives in every town in America. It's sad but there comes a time when people have to help themselves.

      August 25, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
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