In 2016, Jamal Hinton of Tempe, Arizona, was sitting in class when he got a text message from a number he didn’t recognize. The message was from a stranger informing him of the time and date of the family’s Thanksgiving day gathering. Naturally, Jamal, who was 17 at the time, texted back asking who messaging him. The last thing he expected was a reply saying, “It’s your grandma.” Fairly certain that the sender was not, in fact, his grandma, he asked for a picture – which he promptly received. After sending a picture back, proving that he was not her grandson, he asked, “Can I still get a plate, tho?” The answer was a resounding, “yes,” because as the sender, who turned out to be Wanda Dench from Mesa, Arizona, said, “That’s what grandma’s do…feed every one.”
In what turned out to be one of the sweetest viral stories of 2016, Hinton accepted the invitation from his mysterious grandma and tweeted their initial text exchange, followed by a selfie of the pair on Thanksgiving Day. The story went viral as hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world tuned in to see what would happen next.
As it turns out, after meeting in 2016, the pair formed a bond and the next year Jamal and his girlfriend, Mikeala, were invited once again and gladly attended. And thus, a Thanksgiving tradition was born and carried on as Jamal and Mikaela joined the Dench family at the Thanksgiving table once again this year.
The best part about this story, however, is the relationship Wanda and Jamal have carried on between holidays. While, naturally, she’s not his actual grandma, Wanda reports that she and Jamal text once a week or so, often discussing his plans for the future, which include dreams of law school and a career as a sports agent.
At a time when so many of the stories we see on the news and on social media seem to be about violence, hate, and political and social tensions, we realize that stories like Jamal and Wanda’s are more of what we need. After all, Thanksgiving is about celebrating, sharing, and opening our hearts to those around us. And what better example of the true meaning of Thanksgiving than these two unlikely friends!
Hear Jamal and Mikaela tell the story in their own words below.
For more heartwarming stories and funny, family-friendly videos, be sure to check out Richmond Mom’s entire Share Saturdays series!