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Grandma and teen from viral Thanksgiving story to continue tradition following husband’s COVID death

Their Thanksgiving table will be a little emptier this year.


Rachel Kiley

Internet Culture

Four years ago, the internet was treated to a heartwarming story of two complete strangers coming together for Thanksgiving after an accidental text. They’ve continued the tradition year after year, but thanks to COVID, things are going to be a little different, and a little heartbreaking, this time around.

For those unfamiliar with the story, back in 2016, Wanda Dench accidentally texted Jamal Hinton to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner, believing she was texting her grandson.

After confirming that it was not, in fact, his grandmother texting him, Hinton, who was 17 at the time, asked if he could still get a plate.

“Of course you can,” Dench replied. “That’s what grandma’s [sic] do… feed every one.”

Hinton attended the holiday meal with Dench’s family, and the relationship stuck. Hinton has spent every subsequent Thanksgiving with Dench and her husband, Lonnie.

But earlier in 2020, both Wanda and Lonnie came down with COVID-19, and after a difficult battle, Lonnie passed away on April 5.

“Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!” Hinton wrote upon sharing the tragic news of Lonnie’s death.

The Denches were married for 43 years, and this will undoubtedly be a difficult Thanksgiving for Wanda without her husband, but she and Hinton determined that they would not let the pandemic stop their tradition.

“It’s become a huge part of our lives,” Hinton told Good Morning America. “It’s great being part of something so loving and having people around the world to talk to us and being touched by our story.”

He also added that he has been quarantining for the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving so that they could share the meal together safely.

Hinton also shared a YouTube video back in July of him and his girlfriend, Mikaela, having dinner with Wanda after Lonnie’s death. Prior to that, he posted a Twitter thread with photos and videos of the four of them spending time together over the years, showing the world that what started as a random holiday accident genuinely blossomed into relationships that held so much meaning beyond the Thanksgivings they’ve shared.

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