Grandma and stranger who met through mistaken text celebrate 7th Thanksgiving together

Published: Nov. 25, 2022 at 2:53 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 25, 2022 at 2:59 PM CST
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MESA, Ariz. (Arizona’s Family/Gray News) – In what’s become one of America’s most heartwarming Thanksgiving traditions, Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton celebrated together for year seven!

They gained viral fame in 2016 when Dench thought she sent a text to her grandson about Thanksgiving dinner but accidentally sent it to the wrong number. Instead, she sent it to a teenager, Hinton, who showed up for the holiday dinner.

Their lives have changed so much since, with some big new changes on the horizon.

“It’s going to be bad when I get 30!” said Hinton.

“Wait till you get 65!” said Dench, laughing.

They say you lose track of time when you’re having fun, and as the years add up, the more fun these two seem to have.

“We even had an adventure,” Dench said. “We went to Atlanta, Georgia, at the beginning of the year and had a blast there. We were on a game show!”

The 2016 text mishap unexpectedly led to a tradition of them celebrating Thanksgiving together every single year since, with a friendship to boot.

“I do know the first Thanksgiving he didn’t bring anything over,” Dench said jokingly.

“Wow! Throwing people under the bus, golly!” Hinton said.

They added a new activity to the mix this year: baking pumpkin pie.

“We thought we could bring pies to everybody’s Thanksgiving tomorrow,” Dench said Wednesday. “I don’t think I’m a good cook, but my husband says I was.”

Dench’s husband, Lonnie, was a staple at Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2020 from COVID-19.

On Thursday, they were planning to have dinner at Hinton’s girlfriend Mikaela’s family home, the last place Lonnie celebrated Thanksgiving with them.

Even though he’s gone, Lonnie’s still part of the changes in their lives this past year.

“I got a tattoo. And this guy accompanied me because it was my first tattoo,” said Dench, motioning to Hinton. “It’s three shooting stars, and they represent my husband, my mother, and my father, who are all in Heaven right now.”

Hinton has grown up in front of our eyes from teenager to adult, adding a new title to his resume this year: coach.

“Fifth grade, sixth grade basketball coach. I have some amazing kids on my team,” Hinton said.

“What’s is it like to be on the opposite side of that, when in this story you started as the kid?” asked reporter Briana Whitney.

“It’s amazing. It’s something that I never thought that I would do,” Hinton said. “I always looked up to my coaches. It’s just great to know that there’s kids out there that I’m helping.”

And perhaps the biggest change: Dench is moving a couple of hours north to Prescott, Arizona.

“It’ll be bittersweet because I have wonderful memories in this house, and all our Thanksgivings that we’ve had here,” Dench said.

Don’t worry, they already have an answer to your question.

“We already have, I guess we have year eight planned out!” Hinton said.

“Eight is going to be in my new house up in Prescott!” Dench said.

“It means I have a lot of driving on Thanksgiving next year!” Hinton said.

These two are always going the extra mile for each other because no matter differences in race, background and generation, the only ingredient needed here is a whole lot of heart.

“It definitely has made me realize how important friendship is,” Dench said.

“And maybe in the most unlikely of places,” Whitney said.

“Yes,” Dench and Hinton replied.