In 2016 Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton became unlikely friends when a Thanksgiving text went to the wrong person, and their story went viral. They have been celebrating the holiday together every year since and 2021 will be no exception.
The Thanksgiving Text Backstory
In 2016, Wanda Dench of Mesa, Arizona, sent her grandson a text message to give him the details of their Thanksgiving celebration. The only problem was she accidentally sent it to the wrong number.
Instead, she sent the message to Jamal Hinton, who was a seventeen-year-old student attending Desert Vista High School at the time. Once the pair sorted out the mistake, Hinton asked if he could still have a plate anyways.
To his surprise, Dench said yes- and invited him over to Thanksgiving dinner.
“People can actually connect and be so nice to each other with people they don’t even know,” Hinton said .
When he first showed up on Dench’s doorstep, he was nervous. He didn’t know if there would be awkward moments when he didn’t know what to say. His fears were soon dashed, however, and he quickly connected with Dench and her entire family.
The pair have become the best of friends, and all it took was a single Thanksgiving text. Hinton has been celebrating the holiday ever since with Dench and her family .
2020: An Empty Seat
Even in 2020, Dench and Hinton continued the tradition. They even celebrated early so they could all get tested for the coronavirus before having Thanksgiving dinner with their own families.
However, that year was different, and not because of the earlier date. Sadly, there was an empty seat at their table this time around. A seat where Dench’s husband, Lonnie, would have sat. Lonnie passed away in April from COVID-19 after 43 years of marriage.
“I wasn’t looking forward to it at first because Lonnie wasn’t going to be there. The past seven months have been so difficult, but this was really important to me,” said Dench .
Knowing that Lonnie would have been upset had they canceled the tradition, Hinton still came over for their annual Thanksgiving meal. According to Dench, they really enjoyed themselves, and in a time when they were all still grieving, the company was really good for them.
Hinton, who is now 21, said that they had a photo of Lonnie with a candle, and at first it was sad. Gradually, the mood lightened, and they told jokes and shared memories of Dench’s late husband.
A Mistaken Thanksgiving Text and Friends for Life
Hinton and Dench likely didn’t know it at the time, but that innocent Thanksgiving text blunder would change both their lives. Since their first dinner in 2016, the pair have shared many memories together, even as their life circumstances have changed. Dench says it feels as though they knew each other in a past life.
“There’s absolutely no generational gap between us. The conversation just flows, we never run out of things to talk about.” 
Their friendship does not stop at Thanksgiving dinners, though. Hinton and his girlfriend have gone on double dates with Dench and her late husband, like the time the four of them visited a pumpkin patch together. According to Hinton, he has also become Dench’s personal tech support .
As Hinton’s friendship with Dench grew, so too did his friendship with Lonnie. He remembers him fondly, and misses him terribly.
“Lonnie was never the quiet guy. Right when I walked in the door the first time I met him, he didn’t even reach out for a handshake. He just immediately pulled me in for a hug,” Hinton said. “He was the kind of guy to always bring your hopes up whenever you felt down. Losing him was losing a best friend.” 
As Dench and Hinton continue to heal from their loss, they have each other for support. Their story is a reminder that you can find friendship in the most unlikely places, and even just one Thanksgiving text can change your life.
Update Thanksgiving 2021: “We are all set for year 6!”
Yes, you read that headline right, Jamal Hinton and Wanda Dench will once again be together for the holiday! According to a Tweet they will be spending their sixth straight Thanksgiving together. Please keep this going, we’re all here for it!
We are all set for year 6! 🦃 pic.twitter.com/wEQioizWGd— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 14, 2021
- “Grandma accidentally invites stranger to Thanksgiving – and it gets better.” CNN. Bethany Hines. November 24, 2020.
- “A bittersweet Thanksgiving for the grandmother and teenager who met via an accidental text in 2016.” CNN. Alaa Elassar. November 23, 2020.
- “Grandmother who texted the wrong teen for Thanksgiving shared her fourth holiday with him.” CNN. Scottie Andrew. November 29, 2019.
- “Grandmother and teen she mistakenly texted to reunite for 6th Thanksgiving” TODAY. November 15, 2021.