Woman Who Accidentally Invited Teen Stranger to Thanksgiving 4 Years Ago Hosts Him Again

November 26, 2020 Updated: November 26, 2020

A couple of unlikely friends serendipitously met four years ago because of a mistaken Thanksgiving dinner invitation. Their rendezvous dinner went viral on social media at that time. And since then, it’s become an annual tradition.

This year, they’re spending Thanksgiving together again.

In 2016, Wanda Dench, then a grandma in her 60s, accidentally texted a total stranger named Jamal Hinton, then a teenager, to her Thanksgiving dinner. What she gained out of the bargain was an unexpected “adopted” family member and lifelong friend.

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From left, Wanda Dench, her husband, Lonnie Dench, and Jamal Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela Autumn. Lonnie Dench passed away in April. (Courtesy of Jamal Hinton)

Wanda had texted Hinton thinking she had sent a message to her grandson.

They soon realized they didn’t know each other, but when Jamal jokingly asked if he could still have a plate at her table, Wanda said yes.

“Of course you can,” she messaged back. “That’s what grandmas do, feed everyone.”

After it was shared online, their exchange went viral, and to the internet’s delight, Jamal actually showed up on her doorstep. The pair hugged like long-lost family the moment they met, and the pair have been documenting their get-togethers on social media ever since.

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(Illustration – fizkes/Shutterstock)

But when Wanda’s husband, Lonnie, passed away in April due to illness, it seemed their annual Thanksgiving reunion would be impacted.

Wanda, now 63, has been lovingly dubbed “Thanksgiving Grandma” by the internet. She said that she plans to host her now-21-year-old “honorary grandson” despite how the year has gone, adding that it’s what Lonnie would’ve wanted.

“I always remember Lonnie looking at the bright side of things,” she told the New York Times. “He would want us to celebrate his life instead of hating COVID and hating everything.”

Jamal and his girlfriend, Mikaela, knew this holiday would be difficult for Wanda and her family, and they wanted to be there for her, too.

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Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving together. (KPHO/KTVK)

“I wasn’t looking forward to it at first,” Wanda told CNN. “Lonnie wasn’t going to be there. The past seven months have been so difficult, but this was really important to me.”

So, they had a small family dinner together on Friday with Wanda, her daughter, and her biological grandson, sharing fond memories of Lonnie.

Wanda says the reunion did her a lot of good.

“I can’t even explain how much joy I had, having good food with my favorite company,” she said. “We laughed, we had a great time, we reminisced about the past. It was so good for all of us.”

At Lonnie’s place at the table, they kept a candle burning next to his framed picture.

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A photo of Lonnie and a candle stood in front of his empty chair during their Thanksgiving dinner this year. (KPHO/KTVK)

The tearful moment when Wanda gave thanks before dinner was captured on video.

“Thank you for all the blessings, and thank you so much for having Lonnie in my life,” she shared. “I miss him, but I know he’s in a good place. So to everybody here, I love you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Amen.”

Jamal is grateful they were able to support Wanda during her time of need, and he’s glad to be an honorary member of the Dench family.

“I would just like to say … thank you for welcoming me into your home with open arms from day one,” he said.

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