Strangers who met through accidental text continue Thanksgiving tradition

MESA, Ariz. — The touching tradition that started after a grandmother accidentally texted a stranger an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner continued this year, despite the coronavirus.

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Wanda Dench, of Tempe, Arizona, thought she was inviting her grandson to Thanksgiving dinner when she sent a text in November 2016. She did not realize his number changed and instead accidentally messaged stranger Jamal Hinton. Screenshots of their texts were widely viewed on social media. They became friends and have spent Thanksgiving together each year since.

Dench and Hinton debated the risks of a Thanksgiving celebration and decided on having a small dinner Friday, The New York Times reported. This year’s celebration will be missing Dench’s husband, Lonnie, who died in April from the coronavirus.

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“It’s going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him,” she said. “My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we’ve done.”

They gave thanks and kept a candle burning and a picture of Lonnie at his place at the table.

“I always remember Lonnie looking at the bright side of things,” Hinton told the Times. “He would want us to celebrate his life instead of hating Covid and hating everything.”

Hinton, 21, has become friends with the Denchs over the years. He and his girlfriend, Mikaela, would go on double dates together in addition to their yearly Thanksgiving dinner.

“After meeting (Wanda Dench) the first time I just knew, she’s another person, age is really just a number,” Hinton told The Times. “It doesn’t matter; you can be friends with anybody, you can be family with anybody.”

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