A grandmother has shared how the stranger she accidentally invited to Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 is in her ‘heart for life’ — as they confirm they will be spending the holiday together for the seventh year in a row.
Wanda Dench, 65, and Jamal Hinton, 23, from Arizona, became unlikely friends after she texted the then-teenager thinking he was her grandson, a mistake that changed both of their lives for the better.
The incredible story behind their Thanksgiving tradition has inspired an upcoming Netflix movie, but they agree that their bond is about more than being in the spotlight.
‘I told her the cameras and the fame, everything could stop tomorrow, and nothing’s changing between us,’ Hinton told NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren during a segment that aired on the Today show Wednesday.
Wanda Dench, 65, and Jamal Hinton, 23, from Arizona, reunited at The Cheesecake Factory this week as they confirmed they will spend their seventh Thanksgiving together
They became unlikely friends after she texted him and invited him to Thanksgiving in 2016. Hinton, who was 17 at the time, ended up going to her celebration and has continued to do so every year since
‘Absolutely,’ Dench agreed. ‘He’s in my heart for life.’
When Hinton started a new car painting and tinting business earlier this year, he put Denton on his advertising billboard in honor of their enduring friendship.
‘I’ve always told her whatever I’m doing, she’s a part of, no matter what it is,’ he explained to Dahlgren.
Hinton was also there for Dench when she got her first tattoo about a month ago, saying they are getting ‘matching tattoos next.’
The pals’ chance meeting happened six years ago when she texted him and asked him if he was coming to Thanksgiving dinner at her house, thinking she was reaching out to her grandson.
The long-time friends opened up about their bond during an interview with NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren that aired on the Today show Wednesday
Dench said Hinton is in her ‘heart for life,’ while he insisted that the fame ‘could stop tomorrow, and nothing’s changing between us’
They soon realized that she had texted the wrong person, but Hinton, who was 17 at the time, jokingly asked if he could ‘still get a plate tho?’
‘Of course you can, that’s what grandmas do, feed everyone’ Dench quickly replied.
When Hinton showed up for dinner that year, she hugged him immediately, and they’ve spent every Thanksgiving together since.
Speaking to Today last year, Hinton shared that he was surprised when Dench said he could join her family’s celebrations, but he decided to roll with it.
‘Yes, there was a huge amount of hesitation because it was all just a joke,’ he recalled. ‘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 was by Dench’s side when she got her first tattoo about a month ago
‘Matching tattoos next,’ he said during the interview
Hinton was just 17 when Dench accidentally sent him a text message inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner in 2016
Hinton explained that she had texted the wrong person, but he then asked if he could ‘still get a plate tho?’
Ironically, Dench isn’t a fan of Thanksgiving, and she admitted on the morning show she had actually wanted to cancel their holiday plans that year.
‘That’s very true,’ she said. ‘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.’
Dench and Hinton stay in touch and plan regular visits year-round, and during the pandemic, he and his girlfriend, Mikaela, left her food outside her door.
It was a difficult time for the widow, who lost her beloved husband, Lonnie, to COVID-19 on April 5, 2020, just days after he contracted the virus.
For her first Thanksgiving without her husband, she hosted an early dinner attended by Hinton and Mikaela, as well as her daughter, and her grandson.
Hinton ended up going to Dench’s celebration, and he has continued to do so every year since
Dench, who isn’t a fan of Thanksgiving, previously admitted that she had actually wanted to cancel their holiday dinner that year, but the universe had other plans
Hinton, whose girlfriend Mikaela also spends Thanksgiving with them, also became close to Dench’s husband Lonnie, who died of COVID-19 in 2020
A framed photo of Lonnie was placed on the dinner table as they paid tribute to him during the gathering.
During their latest appearance on the Today show, Dench opened up about how Hinton taught her how to be ‘open to friendships [even] when you think you have nothing in common when somebody.’
‘He’s literally changed my life,’ she said.
‘It’s amazing to have her as a friend and as my family,’ Hinton added.
The long-time pals have been documenting their meetups on social media to the delight of millions around the world.
For Dench’s first Thanksgiving without her husband in 2020, she hosted an early dinner attended by Hinton and Mikaela, as well as her daughter, and her grandson
A framed photo of Lonnie was placed on the dinner table as they paid tribute to him during the gathering
Hinton and his girlfriend, Michaela, are pictured with Dench at last year’s celebration
Last December, just a week after they spend their sixth holiday together, it was announced that a movie inspired by their story was in development at Netflix.
‘We are excited to share our story with the world. We hope it inspires more people to reach out and make connections that they wouldn’t ordinarily make,’ they said in a statement.
‘We are so blessed to find a genuine friendship brought together by God from a mistaken text message,’ they added.
Hinton also tweeted about the news, including a few snaps of him and Dench, along with a message about their new film.
‘I am very excited to announce our new partnership with Netflix. We thank every single one of you for your love and support in our journey the last 6 years. We can’t wait to tell our story on the big screen!’ Hinton said.
Their annual Thanksgiving tradition has inspired an upcoming Netflix movie
Dench revealed on Today that she is retiring and moving a few hours away, but they already have plans to celebrate Thanksgiving together next year
When asked about the film during their interview, she shared that they are ‘not allowed to talk about it.’
Dench and Hinton kicked off the holiday early with a trip to the Cheesecake Factory ahead of their annual Thanksgiving dinner.
He took to Twitter and Instagram on Tuesday to share a photo of himself posing with Dench outside of the chain restaurant.
‘To answer all your questions, yes Thanksgiving year 7 is planned out!’ he tweeted. ‘See you guys Thursday!’
Dench revealed on Today that she is retiring and moving a few hours away, but they won’t let the distance affect their annual tradition.
‘We already got plans for next year,’ Hinton said.