Finding size-18 shoes for a really tall 12-year-old

The night before his first day at Robert L. Vale Middle School, Joseph Gamez laid out his clothes and new Nike KD (Kevin Durant) sneakers — a first for the shy 12-year-old.

In past years, he got queasy at the thought of walking through the halls, where he towered over his classmates and a few teachers. The seventh-grader stands six-foot-six, prompting some classmates to razz him for shoes his mother, Tiffany Jones, bought at bargain stores and ordered online through Amazon.

The youngsters didn’t have a clue how hard it was to find a size-18 shoe for Joseph to wear. Jones’ son felt uneasy wearing unfashionable shoes — often nondescript white or black loafers or sandals suited for older men.

At her wit’s end, Jones considered sending a message to retired NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. Jones heard he’d helped out a 13-year-old in a similar scenario. News reports said O’Neal, who led San Antonio’s Cole High School to a state championship in 1989, was six-foot-six at age 13.

Instead, Jones turned to Facebook Street News SA, a page started during the pandemic for neighbors to help neighbors. She hoped someone might have information before school started about where she could buy Joseph shoes or pick up gently used sneakers.

That day, the online community answered Jones — her post received more than 3,000 likes and 294 comments of support for the youngster some called a “gentle giant.” In addition to offering retail options, the outpouring of goodwill brought gifts of shoes that gave her son choices and confidence he’d never had before.

“I was very happy,” Joseph said at his Northwest Side home. “I couldn’t believe it. I was surprised so many people helped me.”

That week, more than 15 pairs of stylish shoes arrived from former NBA players, a River Center shoe store and a local barbershop. Jones said the San Antonio community’s response changed her son’s life.

Joseph Gamez ties on a pair of size 18 shoes donated to him by basketball player Chris Daniels. He had difficulty finding shoes that fit. His mother, Tiffany Jones, right, put out a call for help on social media, and within days, many responded with shoes, including NBA players, and a Rivercenter Mall shoe store.

Billy Calzada /Staff photographer

“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Jones, 43, said. “We didn’t have to spend a budget on shoes. I got to buy him nice outfits. It was good to have total strangers reach out and offer help. He deserves it. He has a heart of gold. A smile says a thousand words.”

Misty Renee Stricker put Jones in contact with her brother-in-law, Brad Stricker, a former Denver Nuggets basketball player who was more than willing to help the youngster. He understood Joseph’s plight — as a teen, Stricker grew 9 inches in two summers.

A 22-year veteran of the Air Force, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. Observing and listening across San Antonio, he finds intriguing tales to tell about everyday people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.

Stricker met Joseph and his mom at The Rim Shopping Center with several pairs of sneakers, including a pair of Air Jordans he’d worn on the basketball court for just 10 minutes. Jones said that as her son slipped his foot into one of the Jordans, he almost shed a tear.

“This year has been a blessing for him,” Stricker said. “He’s enjoying regular things now like other kids.”

Then San Antonio native Chris Daniels, who played in the NBA G League, gave Joseph two pairs of shoes and worked out with the youngster at the gym. Cordell Dixon and Janis Herrera followed with a contribution. Stock Room Shoes at Rivercenter Mall donated a pair of new sneakers, as did Kings Mane Barbershop.

Joseph and his family are still reeling from the generosity of San Antonio’s social media community.

“That is awesome!!!” Glenda Perez wrote on the Facebook page. “Good people still around.”

Nicole Veilleux posted that the story gave her chills.

“This makes my heart so happy for you and him!!!” she said.

Though Joseph looks like he would be a natural on the basketball court, he doesn’t play the sport. He did have designs on playing football, but he couldn’t find cleats that fit. Jones said some people have found it hard to believe her son doesn’t dunk balls or possess as much strength as they think he should. Jones said she reminds them that he is still a boy.

Joseph is more excited about his hobby — video gaming. His family said when he goes to his second-floor bedroom and slips on his headset, he’s another person. They can hear him loudly tapping on his red keyboard, shouting at competitors beneath the glare of anime warriors from wall posters.

This is his element, where he navigates between two screens in a black gaming chair he put together with his father. Inches from the desk are several pairs of donated shoes on the floor, neatly lined up in two rows.

When he isn’t tinkering with his computer, Joseph enjoys watching movies with his family, walking Bella, the family’s golden retriever and reading books such as “A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting,” always tucked away in his backpack.

The gift shoes opened up other possibilities for the seventh-grader. Joseph told his mother tht when he walked through the school’s front doors, it seemed his classmates had warmed up to him. Now, he said, they struck up conversations as in the hallways.

“No, son, it’s you,” Jones told him. “You’re walking with your head up and not looking down at your feet. Now, you can actually see the people who are talking to you.”

Jones is doing her part to return the favor to others in the community. She runs a clothing closet called Bethany’s Closet, stocked with new and gently used items.

“If anyone needs anything, I can help out,” she said.

Jones, who grew up in San Bernadino, California, had a message for those who offered aid in her son’s time of need.

“You guys gave me love and blessings that money couldn’t provide,” Jones said. “If this is what you guys do for your people, I want to be a part of this community.”

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