Have you noticed more people walking around wearing red sneakers? It may be because of a young boy named Oakley Debbs.
If you ever met Oakley Debbs, you would have thought what a great kid he was. 11 years old, he attended Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach. He was a straight-A student, and a loving son and brother to his twin sister Olivia. He had an infectious smile, and he loved playing soccer and football
Late last year, while on vacation with his family, Oakley accidentally ate a piece of cake containing nut resin. Oakley’s parents knew he had a nut allergy, and had always been vigilant about his health, his allergy, and the asthma they managed. Oakley had developed blisters on his lips, so they gave him Benadryl. He seemed fine. In the hours after, though, his body went into anaphylactic shock, and he never recovered. The tragedy of Oakley’s death is unfathomable. Not least because it could have been prevented had the family known how to recognize the signs of a severe food allergy reaction and given him his epi-pen immediately.
Shortly after his passing, his family started Red Sneakers for Oakley, named after his favorite shoes. They knew right away they had to get the word out and spread awareness about food allergies so that no other parent or community need suffer a similar loss.
Their first awareness event was a community soccer game at the Palm Beach Recreation Center where hundreds of children came out to honor Oakley in a soccer jamboree wearing red sneakers. What was truly amazing about the turnout was that even families who don’t have food allergies showed up to express their support of the need for better education of the real dangers of food allergies.
At another recent event, just last month, families of Rosarian Academy participated in an Awareness Day with informational booths as well as carnival games and rides for the children. Over 400 people attended.
The Mission of Red Sneakers for Oakley
The mission of Red Sneakers for Oakley is to empower families and communities with the tools and information to better protect their children. In just 8 weeks, Red Sneakers for Oakley gained 7,500 followers on Facebook, with an average weekly reach of 40,000, and a growing audience of a combined 100,000+ across all their social media accounts.
One of their Calls to Action is to ask people to wear red sneakers to promote the movement and food allergy awareness, to take photos and to post on social media platforms. And it’s working. Red Sneakers for Oakley has truly galvanized an online movement that did not exist before.
The Red Sneaker symbol is a simple one, but it is resonating with millennials and Gen X’ers alike. Red Sneakers for Oakley has received thousands of messages and posts from people all over the world. They are also receiving testimonials from parents who might otherwise have suffered a tragic incident with their own child had they not heard Oakley’s story.
The dangers of food allergies may be known to parents of children who have them, but many people overlook the severity of them. Have you ever witnessed people questioning whether an “allergy mom” is being overly cautious at a play date? It happens all the time. Red Sneakers for Oakley hopes to change that attitude. It only takes one bite for a child with allergies to potentially have a life-threatening, fatal reaction.
That is the heart and soul of Red Sneakers for Oakley: Children and their communities rallying to make sure everyone understands the true severity of what some people call the allergy epidemic in America.
More than 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, including all those at risk for life-threatening anaphylaxis. Yet there is a widespread lack of awareness and confusion surrounding how to respond properly to anaphylactic reactions.
The road ahead is still daunting as Red Sneakers for Oakley hopes to grow its reach into the millions and raise much-needed funds for awareness programs. Somehow, somewhere, the Debbs family finds the strength and courage to keep promoting their cause, but they can’t do it without you.
This is how YOU can help
Wear Red Sneakers
- What: Any red sneaker will do, take a photo and post on social media
- How: Use the hashtags #redsneakersforoakley #livlikeoaks #foodallergyawareness
- Where: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest
Raise awareness. Organize a community event at your school, recreation center or local business Flyers are available for download at Red Sneakers.org
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