Strangers connected by accidental text celebrate 7th Thanksgiving

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PHOENIX – A Thanksgiving mistake has cooked up years of goodwill for two Arizona residents.

Wanda Dench, 65, texted her grandson’s phone number in November 2016, not realizing he had changed it and her Thanksgiving dinner plans were being sent to a teenager she’d never met.

On the other end, Jamal Hinton, now 23, asked for photographic proof when she texted saying she was his grandmother. A selfie exchange ensued and the screenshots went viral online after he shared them Nov. 15, 2016, on Twitter. As of this week, the tweet has more than 43,200 retweets and 145,900 likes.

Once they realized they weren’t kin, Hinton jokingly texted if he could still have a go at a Thanksgiving plate from Dench, who promptly replied, “Of course you can, that’s what grandmas do … feed everyone.”

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The two spent that Thanksgiving together, and continue to do so every year since.

“We’ve experienced so many different things. It’s been such a joy having her around that it’s ridiculous,” Hinton said.

The unlikely friendship between the two, a senior white woman and a young Black man, has won over many. They’re routinely profiled by national media, and there’s a forthcoming Netflix series adaptation on the bond they’ve formed.

Dench has asked around as to why the interest.

“What (people) say to me is that Jamal and I, because of our friendship, we’ve given people hope and faith in humanity, and that there are people out there that don’t see each other for their color or religion or for anything else,” Dench said.

As Dench and Hinton waited on Wednesday afternoon for a couple of pumpkin pies to finish baking at her home in Mesa, Arizona, the pair recalled how when that initial text conversation came to light the national mood was tense with the country reeling from a divisive presidential election.

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And Dench and Hinton have leaned on each other through the troubles of the last few years. In April 2020, Dench’s husband of 43 years, Lonnie Dench, 65, died from complications of COVID-19 after the couple contracted the virus.

One day as she grieved her husband while alone in quarantine, Dench heard rustling at her front door. She burst into tears when she opened the door to find Hinton and his girlfriend dropping off food and other goods.

“He cares deeply for people,” Dench said of Hinton.

Two months later, Hinton’s uncle, Walter Hennix, died of a blood clot.

The friends said they have managed to console each other through their losses.

“Lonnie’s passing… to this day, I can’t believe it. Same with my uncle, but whenever we talk about it, I feel things feel better at the end,” Hinton said.

Their bond stretches beyond November – as the two traveled to Atlanta together earlier this year and he joined her when she got her first tattoo recently.

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When asked if they’re family, Dench and Hinton answered in unison: “Of course.”

Five years ago, Dench encouraged Hinton to embark on new ventures even if she’s not a part of them since she’s approaching retirement. He would have none of it. Dench said he looked at her square in the eyes and told her, “No, Wanda, you and I are in this together, and we will always be together to the end.”

Follow reporter Jose R. Gonzalez on Twitter @jrgzztx.

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