South End Family Channels Grief Into Purpose #livlikeoaks


In some respects, Oakley Debbs was like many other 11-year-olds. He loved sports, hanging with his friends and had an inherent happiness and zest for life that often seems reserved for the young. But the South Ender also suffered from asthma and a “mild” allergy to nuts.

While he was very careful to check labels and avoid any foods with nuts, over a Thanksgiving vacation in Maine with his family, he ate part of a piece of coffee cake that had come in a gift basket and was now sitting out on the counter. As it turns out, what looked like chocolate was actually walnut.

After a blister appeared on his lip, his mother followed their typical protocol and administered Benadryl. The blister disappeared and they all believed the situation had passed. But then Oakley complained of a stomachache and vomited. What happened next is what his mom, Merril, called “a tornado of issues”. Oakley went into anaphylactic shock, suffering seizures and cardiac arrest an hour and a half after eating the nut. The family used an EpiPen three times, but it didn’t help. By the time he got to the hospital, he was nearly brain dead. Oakley later died in his father’s arms.

“He’s the man that I always wanted to be myself,” Robert Debbs told a Fox news station. “I’m just so heartbroken that he’s gone.”


His family decided that no one else should have to go through what they did needlessly. Just days after his death, they started the Red Sneakers Foundation (in honor of his favorite footwear) to celebrate his memory and raise awareness about the seriousness of nut allergies.

Students, faculty and employees at a multitude of local schools (Rosarian, Palm Beach Day, South Olive, St. Ann’s) and businesses (such as La Sirena Restaurant) have begun wearing red shoes to support the cause. The Organization’s Facebook page  is filled with with photos of individuals around the world doing the same.


The Debbs Family has already heard from people via Facebook that they have never met, but who credit them with saving their child’s life. After hearing the tragic story of this West Palm Beach boy, they changed their protocol in dealing with their child’s allergic reaction.

“This child of mine, he was a rock star, he was a good, good kid,” said Merrill. “And always in my heart of hearts, I knew that he would make a difference in his life – I just didn’t know it would be after he passed away. So that’s a big part of my driving force – the legacy of Oakley.”

The Debbs family has planned a Celebration of Life Soccer Game for this Saturday at the Palm Beach Rec Center. Players are asked to wear white attire with red shoes to show their support.



Darbster Restaurant’s Pet Project

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Many Southenders know Darbster for its delicious vegetarian offerings. What they may not know is that this bistro’s business is dedicated to a caring cause.

When Darbster owners, Ellen and Alan, opened their first restaurant in 2009 (named after their 17-year-old poodle who came to them from a puppy mill in the mid-west), they also formed the Darbster Foundation.  The goal was to assist in animal welfare and animal rights efforts through education, charitable contributions and direct sponsoring of animal care such spaying and neutering. 100% of all profits from Darbster Food go to their Darbster Foundation, which has no paid employees and operates entirely through volunteers.


The impact the Foundation has made is huge. In 2014, the Foundation provided funds for 1,135 spay neuter surgeries- 644 of these were performed at Peggy Adams and 491 at Palm Beach Animal Care and Control. Sadly, Palm Beach County still had to put down 8,522 cats and dogs last year. The good news is that this number is down approximately 15% from 2013.

The Foundation also participated in and funded the rescue of 24 labradors (14 adults, 8 puppies and 2 pregnant females) in Palm Beach County that were being bred and in poor health, and funded and transported over a dozen kittens and a dozen dogs to new homes in New Hampshire.

The Foundation hopes to do even more in 2015.

Want to help? Here are two easy ways…

1)  Dine at Darbster. Enjoy a delightful repast on the Bistro’s waterfront deck and know that your dining will help dogs and cats in need.

2) Consider making a donation. Every dollar helps.

  • $25 funds a cat spay/neuter (receive a $5 gift card & a Darbster glass)
  • $100 funds a dog spay/neuter ($20 gift card & a Darbster glass)
  • $85 funds a trip to New Hampshire, where adoption is basically assured ($15 gift card and a Darbster glass).


Location & Contact
Darbster West Palm
8020 South Dixie Hwy
West Palm Beach, Florida 33405
(561) 586-2622

Tuesday – Friday 5pm – 10 pm
Saturday 10:30 am – 3 pm – 5 pm – 10 pm
Sunday 10:30 am-3 pm – 5 pm – 9 pm