5 years strong! Happy Thanksgiving everyone❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/mHNEkEKLvA
— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 26, 2020
In 2016, Wanda Dench sent a text message to Jamal Hinton inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner. The only problem? Dench thought she was contacting her grandson, not realizing he had changed his phone number. After exchanging some selfies, she was surprised to find that it was Hinton on the other end of the line. Still, the invitation stood, and the two started a tradition of breaking bread together during each Thanksgiving since. “That’s what grandmas do,” Dench said at the time, “feed everyone.”
This exchange (and the subsequent dinner) went viral, making Dench known throughout the internet as “Thanksgiving Grandma.” People around the world continue to take notice of when the two—who have since become close friends—get together. This year's Thanksgiving drew similar attention, as always, yet it was bittersweet. Dench’s husband Lonnie died of COVID-19 in April, and this was the first Thanksgiving without him.
As health experts were advising everyone to limit the number of people in their Thanksgiving gatherings, Dench and Hinton heeded the warnings and practiced caution. They had dinner prior to the holiday—on November 20—so that they could get tested for the coronavirus before the actual day of the holiday, November 27.
The dinner, which the two shared with Hinton’s girlfriend and Dench’s daughter and grandson, was centered around their beloved Lonnie. They had a photo of him at the table and spent the meal sharing jokes, stories, and memories of him. The two said it was healing to reminisce with good food and company. “[Lonnie] would want us to celebrate his life,” Dench says, “instead of hating COVID and hating everything.”
In 2016, Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton made an unlikely connection after Dench accidentally invited him to her Thanksgiving dinner.
Somebody grandma is coming in clutch this year!! Ayee!!! pic.twitter.com/QGrx83nHLl
— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 15, 2016
They've continued the tradition, having Thanksgiving dinner every year since. This year, however, was bittersweet—Dench's husband, Lonnie, wasn't present because he died of COVID several months prior.
I hope everyone finds joy and love this holiday. Thanksgiving will be bittersweet for me. I won’t have my beloved Lonnie with me, but I will be with family I love dearly. Happy Thanksgiving. pic.twitter.com/FQhVp0pFTX
— Wanda D (@wandadench) November 26, 2020