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Soccer jamboree this Saturday for child who died from food allergies

Posted at 7:23 PM, Nov 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-23 04:46:32-05

While most families focus on Thanksgiving feasts this week, one local mom and dad is honoring a life lost.

Thursday marks one year since the Debbs family of West Palm Beach lost their 11-year old son Oakley to a nut allergy.

Since then, they've launched a national campaign to try to spare another family the pain they feel.

"I miss him a lot," said Oakley's twin sister, Olivia, during an interview with WPTV on Wednesday.

Time has passed but the Debbs family still feels his loss.

"The past year has had so many different emotions," said Oakley's mother, Merrill. "A year ago tonight was the last night of his life. And I keep thinking to myself, I had that night with him. He slept right next to me. I can't believe a year has gone and he's not here."

In November 2016, Oakley died after accidentally eating a cake laced with nuts last Thanksgiving.

Click here to read our previous story.

Oakley had a mild allergy to nuts but his reaction shocked his parents.

"Unfortunately when you get to the point of anaphylaxis, it's the point of no return," said Robert, Oakley's father. "We're just doing our best to put one foot forward."

But over the past year, the family has taken their loss and turned it into hope for other families.

"I've had to learn about this all year long and maybe now I can teach other parents to understand it better. Because I didn't," said Merrill. "We didn't have to go through this if we had known how to react to anaphylactic shock. And how to understand the different safety procedures that there are out there for consumers. There's other things besides a $600 EpiPen. There are other things coming out that I suggest families really look into and ask their allergist and doctors about."

The family launched the non-profit Red Sneakers for Oakley to work with schools and families across the country, raising awareness to food allergies. Oakley was a soccer star and loved his lucky red cleats, which his sister now wears proudly.

"I play better when I wear his shoes," she said with a smile.

The family has even appeared on the Today Show and has received letters and testimonials from around the world from other parents, thanking them for warning families of the dangers of food allergies.

"Oakley is still helping people," said Merrill. "You start to understand that what you're doing is actually helping other families."

Researchers estimate nearly 6 million kids under 18 have food allergies. That's roughly two in every classroom.

"Food allergies are a national epidemic. There's 17 million people that are living with it," she said. "It mutates. It doesn't discriminate. And there is no cure," said Merrill.

With Thanksgiving this week, the family is encouraging everyone to take precautions while entertaining to ensure that family, guests and friends with food allergies stay safe. They posted tips for a healthful holiday season on

Click here to learn more.

This Saturday morning, the organization is planning a memorial soccer jamboree at the Palm Beach Rec center. That's when the town will officially rename the soccer fields the Oakley Debbs Memorial Field.

"Oakley always said, "Mommy when am I going to have my field? I was trying to put space in our house or outside space for him -- I never got that done," said Merrill. "So I thought what I could do for him and Olivia is have the field named after him."

The Oakley Debbs Memorial Soccer Jamboree starts at 9 a.m. at the Palm Beach Recreation Center on 340 Seaview Avenue. The ages 4-12 scrimmage starts at 10 a.m. and the All-Star Game for ages 13+ starts at 11 a.m.

Of course, everyone is encouraged to wear red sneakers in honor of Oakley. Donations can also be made to the Oakley Debbs Memorial Field Fund.

It's just $20 to sign up -- that's the same number for Oakley's soccer jersey. To register your family, just email recreation@townofpalmbeach.comor call 561-838-5485. You can also register on-site.

See the flyer below for more details:


Dick's Sporting Goods is sponsoring the jamboree by donating soccer equipment. The store is offering a 20 percent off coupon for those who wish to support Red Sneakers for Oakley.