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!

Post by:
Filed under: California • Economy • Jobs • Most Intriguing People • U.S.
soundoff (981 Responses)
  1. Steve

    I feel for these folks; they have a lot working against them. As desperate as they sound, it might be time for the 16 year old to step up and get a job. As tough as that might be, it could also be the most rewarding thing that young man has ever done. I know a high paying desk job is not in the cards, but even a minimum wage job would make a huge difference.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shirley

      You try working with Asperger's syndrome. You should check it out before offering advice.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robita

      Yeah, great, he can work a low wage job and never get a chance to go to school. Good solution, sounds like a typical conservative goon idea to me.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sydney

      Umm...the kiddo has Asperger's Syndrome. My son has the same thing. It is not impossible, but truly unlikely this kid will be able to get a job or maintain one if he is hired. He will lack the social ability to get through a job interview. Most teenage level jobs are in some form of customer service. Aspies, as they call themselves, lack the ability to interact socially and respond to normal stressors well enough to work a food counter or cashier's job.

      The local special needs district probably has job placement help and "transition planning services" to help this kid find an appropriate part time job (such as in a library or in the stockroom of a grocery store, or perhaps working with computers in a behind-the-scene capacity). That is assuming he can use public transportation to get to the job. With his disability, he may not be able to use public transportation.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suze

      He's 13 and has Aspergers, which is autism. Not ready for a job yet, maybe bagging groceries next year tho.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suze

      Whoops, he's 16. He can do some little jobs, maybe mowing lawns or something. It's really tough to hold a job with Aspergers though.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. LadyBlue0505

    Please let me know how I can help.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. conoclast

    One statistic I'd hoped would come out of the last census (and I know the question was on the form) is the current average number of people per household. You have to figure the number has spiked dramatically after foreclosure has forced folks to double-up with friends & family, making for LOTS of tragedies like the above. Where is the statistic? The Social Safety Net is all that keeps a rapidly increasing number of people from REALLY falling on hard times - as in starving to death. Is this now our America?

    August 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Robita

    I hope you conservatives are happy. This is the new face of the USA because of "trickle down ecconomics". How many of your corporate kings are helping this and a million other families who can't make ends meet? Do you think a billionaire might be able to give up a ride on his jet so that this kid can get a pair of pants, or at least a slurpee. Geez, I'm livid over the greed that we as a society condone and even worship as our new god. Greed bless you.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. capnronman

    Meth much?

    August 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robita

      Shut yer trap Troll.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Anni

    I would love to donate some food, clothes, and stuff for the family. How can we help?
    My heart goes out to this family.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JJAABB

    After reading more of these comments, I am very confused by all the political mud-slinging. I do not see the connection of this woman's life to a political party or even this current crisis in our economy. Like another poster stated, she is being clothed, fed, housed, and provided a great deal of medical care courtesy of the U.S Government and all the hard-working Americans who are forced to pay Soc. Security taxes and income taxes to support her govt-supplied Disability and Medicaid assistance. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you...............

    Her plight is not the fault of the policies of President Bush's or President Obama's administration. It is the fault of a society that has lifted up government Welfare and all the privileges it comes with as a right of passage for those who feel that a cell-phone, for example, is a "right."

    August 24, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ellen

      What would you have this woman do? Did you miss the part about her being disabled? Would you take away her benefits and those of her mother and have this family living on the street? Propose a solution that isn't cold or cruel and perhaps someone will listen to you.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ya No

      JJ: Not to worry. No one is going to accuse you of having empathy (a human characteristic). Hating is so much easier than loving. You sir, are lazy.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJAABB

      Ellen:
      I "would have this woman" call her local DES office to see if someone can give her a ride to their office where they can help her look over the job postings. She is standing in the photo, so surely she can do something. Where I live, we have many seasonal jobs such as fruit picking and even in these hard times, the sentiment is always that "no one" wants to take these jobs. Surely, a woman so many posters have characterized as "deserving" is not above such work?

      Medicare will be more than happy (and obviously already is) to submit any and all claims for medical care of her mother.

      It just gets to be ENOUGH ALREADY with the idea that pe

      August 24, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexandrine

      You are so cold hearted. That woman needs a cell phone to call 911 if something happens to her mother or son, or if they need it to call for her. I guess you think that AC is also a luxury that the poor don't need. Well, as let me inform you that with out AC in some place YOU CAN DIE. As seen this summer. With out a cell phone someone in her house could die. You don't know what it's like to live pay check to pay check, let me tell you it's not easy. This woman has had hard choices. It's people like you and these dumb @ s s leaders that we have that are slowly killing people just like this woman and our country. 'America' is the common man, but when they start dying, the country starts dying. God bless this woman and I'll be praying for her.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJAABB

      that is................enough already that these people deserve a living handed to them. And, if she REALLY is "disabled" as you've pointed out, she is already being handed everything she needs. The idea that she does not know her way to Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, the THOUSANDS of local churches and charities that would provide her child not just a pair of jeans, but a full WARDROBE and anything else the government has missed is bologna.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJAABB

      "this woman needs a cell phone"

      Classic! That should have been the headline........Where is this country headed with values such like that?!

      Alexandrine, have you "ever heard of" a land line that can cost as little as 15.00/month in some places for the most basic service (like making emergency calls)? Have you "ever heard of" running a fan or opening a window to save on electricity costs? More importantly, have you "ever heard of" going without creature comforts because as Mick Jagger so wisely put it, "YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT?"

      I have not been out to eat at a restaurant in MONTHS and I have actually NEVER wasted my money on slurpies for my kids or myself. I am a creative cook and clip coupons. Have you "ever heard of" the saying "God takes care of those who help themselves?"

      Probably not............

      August 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angeliswatching

      I'm sorry, but I agree with JJAABB, at least to some degree. There is a difference between can and can't ...will and won't. Our country is over-run with the "won't"...Our grandparents survived the hardest economic times this country has ever known, the Great Depression. And since we are going to have another one, I'm thinking that the lessons they had to learn the hard way are the same ones that my generation is going to have to learn the hard way. Survival and making your own way. Going to work when you're sick. Going to a job when you don't like it. Going to work when you're hurt. We're a nation of a bunch of sissies and other countries could (do, and will) eat us all alive because of our apathy. I live next to a family like this and I drag my butt out of bed rain or shine, hurt or aching, sick or well, to go to work and be the best damned employee in my business. It's going to get to where you will earn a wage doing something (anything), or you won't eat.
      Hell, there are construction workers up on the job site before the sun is and they aren't crying about how they feel or what the government owes them..... So no, call me inhumane, but the "have not's" are many times in our country the "won't-work-fors", and I'm sick of it. 20% of people are carrying to load for 80% of the population and we're sick of carrying you. I know that sounds cruel, but it's the truth.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nancy M. B.

    Where is the boy's father? He should be made to pay child support. Nowhere is he mentioned in the article.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Umm...

      I see what you did there. But she's a widow.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seriously?

      From the FIRST sentence of the article: "Widowed mother Deborah Anne Walker was struggling financially when the economy turned sour in the fall of 2008."

      Unless the meaning of widowed has significantly changed, the boy's father passed away.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Flooby

      Can you READ the VERY FIRST WORD OF THE ARTICLE? You must look at the picture menu at McDonald's and point and grunt.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ya No

      I guess the first word in the article would be important.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Unbelievable

    Funny how people want to donate. Put your wallets away. Donate them a job or two so they can have some pride. And for those out there suffering – some of us have been suffering long before the downturn. We've adjusted and it has been humbling and inspiring. So hang in there and keep putting one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ThinMint

    judging by the 245lb son, these people are RICH!

    August 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ellen

      Apparently, you've missed the memo that healthy food, i.e., produce, lean protein, and whole grains cost much more than processed, non-nutritious food. Weight is not an indicator of wealth the way it was when Rubens was painting.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • bdn

      Just because he is 245 lbs does not mean they are rich. Some of these meds that Asperger chldren have to take to function cause them to gain weight despite what they eat. Plus have you been grocery shopping lately? The food most people can afford is not the healthy, low fat, diet conscious foods. These foods are typically too expensive for normal people and people having financial issues to purchase. You and the person who posted before you (yes, you capnronman) are just not very bright and don't have enough facts to post on the web.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • MomtoMany

      I've sure they get food stamps, and you can get fat on pretty cheap foods, healthier foods are generally more expensive

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

    16 years old and 245 lbs? the food budget doesn't seem to be the problem.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • realist

      Cheap, crappy food costs a lot less than fresh fruits and vegetables that are part of a healthy diet.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • CryMeARiver

      I was just going to mention the weight. and this quote ,"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." why should he go to jack in the box. $6 for a burger, fries, coke, and a side of fat. I haven't gone for fast food in over 3 months the last movie I went to was 2 months ago, and i couldn't find a 7-11 to save my life....and i'm not depressed. Tell the kid to pick a bike up on craigslist and go for a ride, its amazing what exercise can do for you health and so called depression because of his lack of junk food and movies.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • bdn

      Seriously cry me a river – cast stones on a man with a disability that you know nothing about. Some of these children can never ride a bike due to their disability. Not saying that this young man can't but you don't know that he can. Perhaps some of you that are putting this young man down and not considering what he lives with every day that you can't even begin to fathom should spend some time working with children with disabilities. Then maybe you will find something else better to do with you time than post on web sites putting people down.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      You many not know this fairly well known fact, but poor people are forced to buy cheap food that is high in calories like macaroni and cheese, rather than fresh fruits and vegetables. If he was rich, he'd be trim and athletic courtesy of his membership in a health club and mesclun salads for lunch. Poor people also have almost no outlets for their stress, so eating 50 cent boxes of pasta and cheap hot dogs, or drinking cheap vodka, becomes their outlet. A cell phone may be the only communication they had, by the way, and how can you get a job today without a phone or email address? As a society, it seems we are very happy to let the wealthy who are doing well and served by the working class have all of the fat and we like to see the poor kicked a little harder. Now the middle class is going down as well. Health care bills are bankrupting average families. I've seen conservatives who sneer at the poor find themselves grateful for Medicaid when their affairs go south.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThinMint

      LOL sounds like a bunch of delusional fatties to me. You don't need a gym membership for exercise. And you don't need to buy expensive foods to balance your caloric intake. The point remains; he is overeating while they complain about lack of food. Doesn’t add up.

      August 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CryMeARiver

    One side of this issue I feel bad. Other side of this issue I don't feel bad at all. Ask yourself this, does that boy mow lawns. Does he put forth the effort to make money. I doubt it. When I was young I walked door to door asking people if they wanted someone to mow there lawn. I told them I didn't have a mower or gas and I would have to use theirs. Still I managed to make about $70 a week mowing 5 yards. People in America don't put forth the effort to better themselves. They have found that it is much easier to complain and do nothing about it.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dolores

      Most young people can do as you say, but this boy has Asperger's syndrome, which is a completely different situation.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ya No

      I started with washing cars, mowing lawns, a paper route. Didn't remove my soul, though. I'm afraid that those opportunities are, and have been, a thing of the past for quite some time. Walking up to anyone's door today is taking your life in your hands, especially if you are young. The world has changed dramatically, and I would suggest that it hasn't been for the better. Check out 'The Olduvai Theory'. Fascinating take on where we've been, where we are, and where it looks like we'll be going. Have a good bottle of Scotch close-at-hand.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexandrine

      Good for you and how long ago was that? 20 years ago? Hello, that would be nice but times have changed and most people can't afford to pay someone $70 a week for cutting the grass. They just spent that on higher gas prices, higher food prices, or they lost their house and don't have any grass to cut:) Plus, just incase you didn't notice, the kid has a disorder and he may not be able to do things like that. You must be conservative? They have the problem of not thinking logically. They live in their on little world of yesteryear.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. amber

    I really feel for this teen, I want to send him a movie pass, 7-11 gift card and some fast eateries. maybe a gift card to a clothing store, and of course to the grocery store. But where do I send it too?

    August 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Netreacher

      Post by: CNN's Jim Kavanagh ...I am sure he knows how to reach these people.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      Now that is a kind, empathetic response. Rather then sneering at a kid who has Aspbergers, and can't even get clothes to wear to school - let alone the many expensive toys that most kids have these days - this poster wants to help. What is so sad is how many posters here somehow think this could never happen to them. Good luck to you all with that erroneous idea. Wait until your healthcare quits on you, your job vanishes, your rent goes up, and your only option is to go homeless and live on food stamps in a homeless shelter. I know a guy who is mentally disabled, with heart condition, and the only help he gets is SSI and a housing voucher IF he can find a place that is available. Right now he lives in a boarding house with no spare money for food. So, you say, he should just BETTER himself, right? raise his IQ and educational level, and get out there and get a job that pays - like, what, maybe $7 an hour? good luck paying the rent in the Boston area with that, even if you can get such a job these days!

      August 24, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ya No

      amber: And perpetuate what is good in...some of us? You're a good girl, wherever you are.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. One Day

    It's appalling to see the rich getting richer in the backs of americans like these and how the republicans want to cut social programs even more. For what?, so their friends that received bailouts get their wallets padded even more.

    Are u going to take this?? Is this your idea of a good society?

    August 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJAABB

      How in the world is anyone "getting rich on the backs" of someone like the woman in this story?!

      As for her "disability," good grief! What is it, that she's "depressed?!"

      The only people whose "backs are breaking" are the Middle Class who actually WORK for a living.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      The rich who use cheap labor and pay very little in taxes are indeed getting rich on the backs of the poor and middle class. Sure they want you to kick the poor, so you don't notice h ow little they are pulling their weight in society. They take their money and their jobs overseas where they can get super cheap labor so they can make bigger profits. the rich don't NEED the average American worker anymore anyhow. And they DON"t pay their fair share in taxes at ALL. You are the only one pay 30 percent or so in taxes. The wealthy pay much much less.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJAABB

      Sue-
      Your points are completely irrelevant in relation to this woman and her family. She has worked very little (part-time) as she stated in the article. Her "job" is to collect disability and the other government benefits that go along with that.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Renee

    I would like to know how or where food donations can be sent to this family.

    August 24, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Netreacher

      Post by: CNN's Jim Kavanagh ... he knows how to reach these people.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
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