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Grandma And Teen Who Spend Thanksgiving Together Say Their Friendship Changed Their Lives

A grandmother and the stranger she accidentally invited to Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 have been candid about their unique bond after confirming they’ll be spending their sixth holiday together next week.

Wanda Dench, 64, and Jamal Hinton, 22, reflected on their first meeting during their joint performance on Thursday’s episode of the Today show, five years after making international headlines with their incredible story.

“It’s been such a journey for me,” said Dench, who attended the show via video chat from her home in Mesa, Arizona. “It’s been great. I mean, things I never expected.’

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Unbelievable: Wanda Dench, 64, and Jama Hinton, 22, have spent every Thanksgiving together since she accidentally invited him to her holiday celebration in 2016

Unbelievable: Wanda Dench, 64, and Jama Hinton, 22, have spent every Thanksgiving together since she accidentally invited him to her holiday celebration in 2016

Memories: The unlikely friends reflected on their first meeting and how it changed their lives during their performance on Thursday's Today show

Memories: The unlikely friends reflected on their first meeting and how it changed their lives during their performance on Thursday's Today show

Memories: The unlikely friends reflected on their first meeting and how it changed their lives during their performance on Thursday's Today show

Memories: The unlikely friends reflected on their first meeting and how it changed their lives during their performance on Thursday's Today show

Memories: The unlikely friends reflected on their first meeting and how it changed their lives during their performance on Thursday’s Today show

It all started five years ago when she texted Hinton and asked if he would come to her house for Thanksgiving dinner, assuming she was reaching out to her grandson.

They soon realized she had texted the wrong person, but Hinton, who was 17 at the time, jokingly asked if he could “still get a sign?”

“Of course you can, grandmas do, feed everyone,” Dench replied quickly.

When Hinton showed up for dinner that year, she immediately hugged him, and they’ve spent every Thanksgiving together ever since.

Looking back, Hinton told Today anchors he was surprised when Dench said he could join her family’s celebrations, but he decided to go ahead with it.

Going viral: Hinton was just 17 when Dench accidentally texted him inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner in 2016

Going viral: Hinton was just 17 when Dench accidentally texted him inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner in 2016

Going viral: Hinton was just 17 when Dench accidentally texted him inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner in 2016

Hilarious: Hinton explained that she had texted the wrong person, but then asked if he could “still get a sign?”

“Yes, there was a huge hesitation because it was all just a joke,” he recalls. ‘I was in math class. I was doing a test. And I was like, “Hey, why not?” I’m just an outgoing person. I like meeting new people and then she said, ‘Yeah,’ and really I was just in awe of the stars.’

Ironically, Dench isn’t a fan of Thanksgiving, and she admitted on the morning show that she actually wanted to cancel their vacation plans that year.

“That’s very true,” she said. “I admitted that yesterday, actually, because I remember that particular year I was tired of putting on the party every year, so I asked my husband if we could just skip Thanksgiving that year and go away and have a mini vacation. or something. But I didn’t know this wasn’t what the universe had planned for me.”

Dench and Hinton keep in touch and schedule regular visits throughout the year, and during the pandemic, he and his friend Mikaela left her food outside her door.

What a story: Hinton ended up going to Dench's party and has continued to do so every year since then

What a story: Hinton ended up going to Dench's party and has continued to do so every year since then

What a story: Hinton ended up going to Dench’s party and has continued to do so every year since then

Fate: Not a fan of Thanksgiving, Dench admitted she actually wanted to cancel their Christmas dinner that year, but the universe had other plans

Fate: Not a fan of Thanksgiving, Dench admitted she actually wanted to cancel their Christmas dinner that year, but the universe had other plans

Fate: Not a fan of Thanksgiving, Dench admitted she actually wanted to cancel their Christmas dinner that year, but the universe had other plans

As close as it gets: Hinton, whose girlfriend Mikaela also spends Thanksgiving with them, also became close to Dench's husband Lonnie, who died of COVID-19 last year

As close as it gets: Hinton, whose girlfriend Mikaela also spends Thanksgiving with them, also became close to Dench's husband Lonnie, who died of COVID-19 last year

As close as it gets: Hinton, whose girlfriend Mikaela also spends Thanksgiving with them, also became close to Dench’s husband Lonnie, who died of COVID-19 last year

It was a difficult time for the widow, who lost her beloved husband Lonnie to COVID-19 on April 5, just days after contracting the virus.

Last Thanksgiving, her first with her husband, 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 dining table as they paid tribute to him at the gathering.

Dench said their annual tradition has come to mean so much to her, as she reflects on the deluge of messages she received after first connecting with Hinton.

“I remember the first year I read some of those posts and people said how we changed their lives, that they have faith in humanity again. And I was just so overwhelmed by all those comments,” she said.

Tough time: During the pandemic, Hinton and Mikaela left her food outside Dench's door and helped her where they could

Tough time: During the pandemic, Hinton and Mikaela left her food outside Dench's door and helped her where they could

Tough time: During the pandemic, Hinton and Mikaela left her food outside Dench’s door and helped her where they could

Tribute: Last Thanksgiving, Dench's first with her husband, she hosted an early dinner attended by Hinton and Mikaela

Tribute: Last Thanksgiving, Dench's first with her husband, she hosted an early dinner attended by Hinton and Mikaela

Tribute: Last Thanksgiving, Dench’s first with her husband, she hosted an early dinner attended by Hinton and Mikaela

Heartbreaking: Lonnie died of COVID-19 on April 5, 2020, just days after contracting the virus.  Dench paid tribute to her late husband at dinner

Heartbreaking: Lonnie died of COVID-19 on April 5, 2020, just days after contracting the virus.  Dench paid tribute to her late husband at dinner

Heartbreaking: Lonnie died of COVID-19 on April 5, 2020, just days after contracting the virus. Dench paid tribute to her late husband at dinner

Over the years: Dench and Hinton's annual meetings are documented on social media to the delight of millions of people around the world

Over the years: Dench and Hinton's annual meetings are documented on social media to the delight of millions of people around the world

Over the years: Dench and Hinton’s annual meetings are documented on social media to the delight of millions of people around the world

Too cute: Dench and Hinton (pictured in 2018) keep in touch and schedule regular visits throughout the year

Too cute: Dench and Hinton (pictured in 2018) keep in touch and schedule regular visits throughout the year

Too cute: Dench and Hinton (pictured in 2018) keep in touch and schedule regular visits throughout the year

“Now, five years later, I realize, ‘Oh my god, they’re the ones who changed my life.’ It’s been great. What a great trip. I never expected this.’

Hinton agreed that their story also changed his life for the better.

“I enjoyed almost every second of it,” he said. “Recently I told Wanda how it really helps me get through the year, sometimes to see so many uplifting reactions, to see so many people looking forward to our story, that I just love it.”

The unlikely friends have documented their encounters on social media to the delight of millions of people around the world. On Sunday, Hinton Twitter to confirm their annual Thanksgiving dinner was still on, writing, “We’re all set for Year 6!”

Heartwarming: Dench and Hinton are scheduled to spend their sixth Thanksgiving dinner together

Heartwarming: Dench and Hinton are scheduled to spend their sixth Thanksgiving dinner together

Heartwarming: Dench and Hinton are scheduled to spend their sixth Thanksgiving dinner together

The tradition lives on: Hinton took to Twitter Sunday to confirm that their annual Thanksgiving dinner was still on and wrote, “We’re all set for Year 6!”

Aww: Hinton added a screenshot of Dench's text message inviting him, his girlfriend Mikaela and his family

Aww: Hinton added a screenshot of Dench's text message inviting him, his girlfriend Mikaela and his family

Aww: Hinton added a screenshot of Dench’s text message inviting him, his girlfriend Mikaela and his family

Hinton shared a screenshot of a text he received from Dench, who invited him, Mikaela and his family to her home.

“I would be delighted if you, Mikaela, and your family would come to my house on Thanksgiving Day to share good food and good conversation. Always your friend, Wanda,” she wrote.

“Yes, we’d love to!” he answered.

Hinton also shared a photo of herself with Mikaela, Dench and Dench’s late husband, Lonnie, which was taken during a previous encounter.

“This story was amazing from start to finish,” he told Today.

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