Thanksgiving is one of the most family-oriented holidays — a time for gratitude, reflection and creating more memories.
Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton aren’t related by blood, but they’ve forged an unbreakable bond and always spend Thanksgiving together thanks to an erroneous text sent in 2016.
It all began when Dench, who is from Arizona, sent a text to her family, including her grandson, inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner. What she didn’t know was that her grandson had changed his number.
After the new owner of the number wrote back to ask who was texting him, and she said “your grandma,” he asked for a photo of her and sent one of him in reply, making it clear they were strangers.
“You not my grandma,” he responded, according to “Today.” “Can I still get a plate tho.”
“Of course you can,” Dench replied. “That’s what grandma’s do …feed every one.”
It was 17-year-old Jamal Hinton, also from Arizona, who’d received the wayward invite, but what started as a mistake has ended in a deep friendship.
“I just clicked when I met him and first talked to him,” Dench told NBC News in 2016. “(I thought), ‘Oh my gosh, I want to get to know this guy.’ “
“It was a reminder that there are still some good people left in this world,” Hinton said of his adoptive grandma, according to People. “She is a very sweet lady, 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.”
— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 29, 2019
Every year since then, Hinton has had a place at the Dench family table, and they take a photo every year.
Hinton’s girlfriend, Mikaela, has been welcomed as well.
Last year was difficult for the Dench family, as Wanda and her husband, Lonnie, came down with COVID early in the year.
I am so sad to announce that Wanda and Lonnie both have COVID-19 and that Lonnie is currently in the hospital fighting both COVID and Pneumonia please send words of love and encouragement their way 💛🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/tUNpUB20qg
— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) April 1, 2020
“I am so sad to announce that Wanda and Lonnie both have COVID-19 and that Lonnie is currently in the hospital fighting both COVID and Pneumonia please send words of love and encouragement their way,” Hinton shared on Instagram on April 1, 2020.
Wanda recovered, but Lonnie didn’t. He died in April; Thanksgiving would never be the same.
But the group still gathered, and they took their annual photo — this time standing around a framed photo of their beloved Lonnie.
“Thank you @wandadench for such an amazing celebration!” Hinton tweeted on Nov. 26, 2020. “You are such a blessing to this world. We miss you Lonnie.”
— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 26, 2020
Hinton has kept followers updated, and on Nov. 14 he revealed that plans for Thanksgiving 2021 were settled.
“We are all set for year 6!” he tweeted, along with a screenshot of the text invite.
We are all set for year 6! 🦃 pic.twitter.com/wEQioizWGd
— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 14, 2021
This friendship that started accidentally is still going strong, and Wanda is happy to have two more people in the family — especially since she was raised in a military family, something that has shaped her philosophy regarding strangers and family.
“We moved around a lot, so I was always going to new places,” she told ABC News. “And so strangers were not strangers to me.
“Family is more than blood. It’s the people you want to be with.”
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