'It's been awesome. What an awesome journey. I never would've expected this,' Grandma Dench said of her unexpected friendship with Hinton.
Two strangers brought together by an accidental text marked the sixth year of their special Thanksgiving tradition this week. Jamal Hinton and Wanda Dench's friendship bloomed when Dench accidentally sent a text to Hinton's number in 2016, inviting him over for Thanksgiving dinner. Despite meaning to send it to her grandson, Dench welcomed her new friend home for the dinner with a simple heartwarming statement that won hearts across the internet: "That's what grandma's do... feed everyone." The pair has celebrated the holiday together ever since and not even the pandemic or the devastating loss of Dench's husband, Lonnie, to COVID-19 has stopped them from honoring their tradition.
With everything going on in the world right now here’s a little boost of happiness for your timeline💛 pic.twitter.com/CM9AjmThJZ— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) March 19, 2020
Here's a look at Hinton and Dench's Thanksgiving dinner throughout the years:
Somebody grandma is coming in clutch this year!! Ayee!!! pic.twitter.com/QGrx83nHLl— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 15, 2016
A few days before Thanksgiving in 2016, Phoenix-based teenager Jamal Hinton—who was 17 at the time—received a text from an unknown number. "The text said, 'Thanksgiving at my house' and it was from a grandma, but I was like, 'When did my grandma learn to text!?' So I asked her for a picture and it definitely was not my grandma," he told PEOPLE. Once he realized the mix-up, Hinton jokingly asked Dench if he could "still get a plate" and without hesitation, she replied, "Of course you can. That's what grandma's do... feed every one." Speaking of Dench's heartwarming response, he said: "It was so unexpected, but she was just so sweet about it. It was a reminder that there are still some good people left in this world."
Thus was born one of the internet's favorite Thanksgiving traditions of all time. "She is a very sweet lady," Hinton said of Dench. "She told me her husband was a veteran and she always invited his friends over for dinner, so she's used to having a lot of people over. I just got a vibe from her that made me feel at home."
Speaking of her unexpected friendship with Hinton, Dench said: "We moved around a lot so I was always going to new places. And so strangers were not strangers to me. Family is more than blood. It's the people you want to be with." The pair met again for Thanksgiving in 2017 with Hinton's girlfriend, Mikaela, also joining the festivities.
Posting a photo alongside Dench on the occasion of their third Thanksgiving dinner together, Hinton wrote: "It's a tradition now." Speaking to TODAY recently, Dench revealed that despite the holiday taking on a great significance for her in the past six years, she was never a big fan of Thanksgiving. "That's very true," she said in an appearance with Hinton on TODAY. "I just admitted that yesterday, actually, because I remember when that particular year, I was tired of putting on the feast every year, so I asked my husband if we could just skip Thanksgiving that year and go off and have a mini vacation or something. But little did I know that's not what the universe had planned for me."
Thanksgiving is not the only time Hinton and Dench hang out together though. Over the years, Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela, have spent time with the Denches on a number of other occasions as well. "For me, it's been such a journey," Dench said. "It's been awesome. I mean, things I never expected. I remember the first year when I was reading some of those messages and people were saying how we changed their lives, that they have faith in humanity again. And I was just so blown away by all those comments. Now, five years later, I realize, 'Oh, my gosh, they're the ones who changed my life.' It's been awesome. What an awesome journey. I never would've expected this."
The friends met again for the holiday in 2020 though it was a bittersweet affair for them as an empty seat at the dinner table reminded them of what they'd lost. Dench's husband, Lonnie, died in April 2020 after a battle with COVID-19 and the group found a way to honor his memory by including his photograph in their annual Thanksgiving snap. "This Thanksgiving, along with all the holidays coming up, aren't going to be the same as past ones but we will make the best of it," Hinton wrote in an Instagram post. "Rest In Peace to Lonnie and everyone else we lost this year we will miss you greatly. Thank you for being in our lives."
"We are all set for year 6!" Hinton tweeted in anticipation of Thanksgiving this year, sharing a photo from Thanksgiving 2019, and the text message from "Grandma Wanda" inviting him over for "good food and great conversation." Speaking of his ever-growing friendship with Dench, he said: "This story has been amazing from the start to the finish. I've been enjoying almost every second of it. I was just telling Wanda the other day how it actually helps me get through the year sometimes to see so many uplifting comments, to see so many people looking forward to our story, that I just love it all."
This is year 6❤️— Briana Whitney (@BrianaWhitney) November 25, 2021
Wanda & Jamal still celebrate Thanksgiving together after the mistaken 2016 text.
Today I sat down with them for a personal interview reflecting on the past, joy & loss, and what’s to come for the two of them.@Jamalhinton12 @wandadench https://t.co/rIF0s9a49T pic.twitter.com/BUPlzzqaG5