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Grandmother and teen she mistakenly texted about Thanksgiving reflect on their friendship

“What an awesome journey. I never would’ve expected this,” Wanda Dench told TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s the Thanksgiving tradition that warms everyone’s heart — not just those involved.

Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton will once again spend the holiday together, the sixth straight year they will celebrate with one another, after Dench accidentally texted Hinton in 2016, when he was a 17-year-old high school senior, thinking she was contacting her own grandson to see if he’d be joining her for Thanksgiving.

After Dench realized she had texted the wrong person, Hinton asked if he could still come over for Thanksgiving. She was all for it and a tradition was born, with the pair going viral in the process for their endearing relationship.

Ironically, Dench, now 64, who lives in Mesa, Arizona, is not a huge fan of Thanksgiving, nor does she consider herself much of a cook.

“That’s very true,” she said in an appearance with Hinton on TODAY Thursday. “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.”

Meanwhile, Hinton, now 22, was surprised when Dench said he could join her family for Thanksgiving when he (jokingly) asked in their initial text exchange.

“Yes, there was a huge amount of hesitation because it was all just a joke,” he said. “I was in math class. I was taking a test. And I was just like, ‘Hey, why not?’ I’m just an outgoing person. I like to meet new people and then she said, ‘Yes,’ and I was just starstruck, basically.”

Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela, will be with Dench again this Thanksgiving. Last year marked the first Thanksgiving since her husband, Lonnie, died in April 2020 from complications from COVID-19.

Both Dench and Hinton, who get together even when it’s not Thanksgiving, say their unexpected tradition has grown to mean so much.

“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.”

“This story has been amazing from the start to the finish,” Hinton said.

He also that, while their story brings a smile to so many other people, he finds comfort in it for himself.

“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.”