Six years ago, Wanda Dench sent a text message to her 24-year-old grandson to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner.
Wanda didn’t realize he had changed his number, so instead, her invitation arrived in the inbox of 17-year-old Jamal Hinton. When Jamal surprised her by accepting the invitation, they wound up creating a new tradition that has brought endless joy and friendship into both of their lives.
Jamal and his girlfriend Mikaela joined Wanda, her husband Lonnie, and their family, and their adorable story went viral.
“It was a reminder that there are still some good people left in this world,” Jamal said at the time. “She is a very sweet lady, she told me her husband was a veteran and she always invited his friends over for dinner, so she’s used to having a lot of people over. I just got a vibe from her that made me feel at home.”
Wanda and Jamal hit it off right away, and the families continued the tradition for years to come. They became good friends who even meet up on non-holidays occasionally.
Sadly, Lonnie passed away from COVID-19 complications in 2020, but Jamal and Mikaela still joined Wanda and her family for a smaller, socially distanced Thanksgiving celebration. Lonnie’s picture was displayed on the table with a lit candle, and soon everyone was sharing their fondest memories of their time with him.
“I can’t even explain how much joy I had, having good food with my favorite company,” Wanda recalled. “We laughed, we had a great time, we reminisced about the past. It was so good for all of us.”
In 2021, Jamal tweeted a text exchange between himself and his surrogate grandmother, and the internet was relieved to hear that their tradition will carry on for a sixth straight year!
“We are all set for year 6!” Jamal wrote along with a screenshot of Wanda’s invitation.
Jamal and Wanda have become more than just friends — they are family who grieve their losses together. As Wanda said, especially after growing up in a military family, “Family is more than blood. It’s the people you want to be with.”
Share this story to send peace and love to Wanda and Jamal as they celebrate the power of family for the sixth year in a row.
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