8 Years of Turkey and Friendship: Grandma’s Text Pal Is Back

In 2016, Jamal Hinton received a text inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner from someone claiming to be his grandmother. After realizing it was from a stranger named Wanda Dench, Jamal asked for a picture to confirm she had the wrong number. Instead of leaving it at that, Wanda sent a smiling selfie, and Jamal jokingly asked if he could still come over. To his surprise, Wanda insisted he join them for Thanksgiving dinner, saying, “That’s what grandmas do.” What started as a mistaken text turned into a heartwarming annual tradition between two strangers.

Jamal tweeted screenshots of their funny first encounter, which quickly went viral. For the past 7 years now, he has joined Wanda and her family in Arizona for Thanksgiving dinner. Their story, spawned from an accidental text, reminds us of the kindness of human connection and the power of sharing meals together.

The Fateful First Text

In 2016, Jamal Hinton was a high school senior in Phoenix, Arizona. One day in November, he received a text from an unknown number inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner. The message read “Thanksgiving at my house, Nov. 24 at 3pm” and was signed “Your grandma.”

Jamal was confused since the number wasn’t his grandmother’s. He asked for a photo, and the sender obliged by sending a selfie of an elderly African-American woman. Clearly, this was a wrong number text, so Jamal took a grinning selfie and replied to let her know she had the wrong person.

When most people get a wrong number text, the conversation usually ends there. But this chance encounter led to a heartwarming new tradition that neither Jamal nor Wanda knew they needed.

Wanda’s Thoughtful Response

Wanda Dench could have easily ignored the text from the strange number that appeared on Thanksgiving in 2016. But instead of dismissing the message, Wanda responded thoughtfully and warmly to Jamal Hinton, the stranger who had accidentally texted her.

Rather than rebuffing Jamal’s greeting meant for his grandmother, Wanda replied “Your grandma must have the wrong number but I would still like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!” This simple act of kindness by Wanda opened the door to an unlikely friendship that has spanned years.

Wanda saw Jamal’s mistaken text as a serendipitous opportunity to connect and spread some joy on the holiday. Her considerate response reflected the generous spirit of the season. She didn’t view Jamal as an intrusion or nuisance, but rather embraced his text as a chance to build a new friendship.

This thoughtful reaction paved the way for a heartwarming annual tradition. Wanda’s decision to respond positively to Jamal’s misdirected message underscores the power of small acts of compassion. Rather than rejecting the unknown, Wanda opened her heart and her table to a stranger-turned-friend.

Jamal’s Gratitude

When Jamal received Wanda’s first text inviting him for Thanksgiving dinner, he was incredibly moved by her thoughtfulness and kindness. Though they were complete strangers, Wanda welcomed Jamal into her home and family without hesitation.

Jamal had recently moved to Arizona for work and didn’t have any family in the state. The idea of spending Thanksgiving alone in his apartment was extremely depressing. But Wanda’s invitation gave him hope. Her warm acceptance of a total stranger reminded Jamal that there is still abundant goodwill in this world.

Jamal responded to Wanda expressing how thankful he was for her invitation. He told her it meant the world to him that she would open her home and share this special holiday with someone she didn’t even know. Jamal said he looked forward to meeting Wanda and her family and celebrating together.

Wanda’s gesture gave Jamal a renewed faith in humanity. Her willingness to help a stranger in need restored Jamal’s spirit and outlook. He was immensely grateful for her compassion.

Their First Thanksgiving Together

In 2016, Wanda invited Jamal over to her home in Mesa, Arizona for Thanksgiving dinner. While Jamal was a total stranger who had accidentally texted Wanda, she warmly welcomed him to join her family’s holiday celebration.

When Jamal arrived, he was greeted by the smell of roast turkey and all the fixings. Though they had only exchanged a few brief texts, Wanda treated Jamal like one of her own. She introduced him to her husband, children, grandchildren, and other relatives gathered for the occasion.

Over dinner, Jamal shared stories about his life and was eager to learn about Wanda’s family. Despite having no prior relationship, their conversation flowed naturally. Jamal fit right in with the lively family. He offered to help clean up afterward, proving himself to be a gracious guest.

After an enjoyable evening together, Jamal thanked Wanda sincerely for her kindness. This thoughtful gesture to a complete stranger demonstrated Wanda’s caring spirit and warm hospitality. Though unplanned, their first Thanksgiving turned out to be a heartwarming start to an unlikely friendship.

An Annual Tradition is Born

In 2016, after sharing their first Thanksgiving dinner together, Wanda and Jamal decided to make their newfound friendship an annual tradition. Though they came from very different backgrounds and generations, the two formed an instant bond over food and conversation that first fateful day.

Despite having just met, they both felt a genuine connection that was worth continuing. As a widow and empty-nester, Wanda enjoyed the company and was touched by Jamal’s kindness and gratitude. As a young man far from his own family, Jamal appreciated having a local surrogate family to share the holidays with.

So the following year, they again made plans to spend Thanksgiving together. The tradition continued on year after year, with Wanda welcoming Jamal into her home each Thanksgiving to share a meal. Over turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, the two would catch up, reminisce about the past year, and make new memories together.

Their annual meetup became a heartwarming tradition and a cherished respite during the holiday season for them both. Wanda and Jamal relished these days spent together and the caring cross-generational friendship they had formed.

Wanda and Jamal’s Bond

Over the years, Wanda and Jamal’s relationship has blossomed into a wonderful friendship. What started as a mistake has turned into a beautiful annual tradition that both Jamal and Wanda cherish.

Despite their very different backgrounds, the two have discovered they have a lot in common. Both are grandparents who delight in spending time with their family. Wanda and Jamal share a love of cooking, exchanging recipes and bonding over their delicious feasts. They’ve supported each other through hard times and celebrated each other’s joys.

Jamal says Wanda is like a second grandmother to his children and grandchildren. The kids affectionately call her “Grandma Wanda.” For Wanda, hosting Jamal and his family provides a sense of purpose and connection. She loves being able to cook for and nurture them all.

The accidental text brought two strangers together. But over the years, through breaking bread and sharing stories, Wanda and Jamal have formed a true friendship and become an extended family. Their annual Thanksgiving celebrations have created lasting memories they both cherish.

Thanksgiving Through the Years

Over the years, Wanda and Jamal’s Thanksgiving celebrations together have created many wonderful memories.

In 2016, the first year after their fateful text mix-up, Jamal made the road trip from Phoenix to Mesa to join Wanda for Thanksgiving dinner. Wanda prepared a feast including turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings. They delighted in spending the holiday together as if they were family.

In 2017, Wanda and her husband traveled to Phoenix to spend Thanksgiving with Jamal and his family. They got to meet Jamal’s wife and kids and experience his traditions. Jamal smoked a turkey on the grill that year, which was new for Wanda.

The 2018 Thanksgiving was especially meaningful, as it marked the passing of Wanda’s husband earlier that year. Jamal brought extra comfort, joy and laughter into her holiday as she adjusted to her first one without her husband. They looked through old photo albums and reminisced.

For 2019, Wanda and Jamal decided to visit a new city together for Thanksgiving. They chose San Diego and enjoyed exploring the town, walking on the beach, and trying a restaurant feast. This gave their holiday adventure a fun new twist.

In 2020, their Thanksgiving plans were adjusted due to the pandemic. Instead of gathering in person, they had a long video call to catch up, express gratitude, and have some laughs. Wanda cooked for her family and Jamal for his, and then they virtually shared their meals together.

Last year in 2021, vaccines allowed Wanda and Jamal to reunite again in Mesa for a wonderful feast. They cherished this return to tradition after the challenges of 2020. It was a chance to appreciate their relationship and give thanks for all they have experienced together since 2016.

Their Thanksgiving Goes Viral

In 2022, Jamal and Wanda’s heartwarming story of friendship went viral on social media. It all started when Jamal posted some photos from their Thanksgiving celebration that year on Facebook. He remarked on how grateful he was to have met Wanda and how their annual tradition had become a cherished highlight of his year.

One of Jamal’s friends was so touched by the post that they shared it publicly. Within days, Jamal and Wanda’s story was being picked up by major news outlets and spreading rapidly across platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Many people were moved by the serendipitous nature of the two strangers becoming close friends.

Countless social media users commented that they found Wanda and Jamal’s relationship inspirational. At a time when society feels increasingly divided, people resonate with the message that human connections can form in unexpected ways. Some fans even suggested that their story should be made into a heartwarming movie or book.

As their viral fame grew, Jamal and Wanda were interviewed on national morning shows and websites. While they were surprised by all the attention, they took it in stride. For them, the relationship was always more important than any limelight. Still, they were glad their experience highlighted the power of kindness between strangers. Their Thanksgiving tradition had brought them together, and now it was bringing joy to people across the internet.


The heartwarming story of Wanda and Jamal’s Thanksgiving tradition, made possible by a fateful wrong number text, reminds us that human kindness and connection can thrive even in our increasingly disconnected world. At a time when many feel loneliness and isolation, Wanda and Jamal’s tale brings hope.

Their serendipitous meeting and evolving relationship over the years shows how powerful a simple act of compassion can become. Wanda welcoming Jamal, a total stranger, into her home on Thanksgiving launched an unlikely friendship and annual custom that neither could have predicted. Their story reveals the magic that can happen when we open our hearts to others.

Most touchingly, Wanda and Jamal’s annual tradition highlights the joy of human connection. Their relationship defied age, race, and circumstance to create a meaningful bond. As two relative strangers broke bread together year after year, they formed a close friendship most people share with their families. Their story inspires us to nurture new relationships and cherish the people in our lives.

Ultimately, Wanda and Jamal’s Thanksgiving celebrations remind us that people need people. Even the most isolated individuals can find belonging when someone reaches out in kindness. Their holiday meals together every November became beacons of light and hope. In reflecting on their heartwarming story, we are called to bring more compassion into our own lives and communities.

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