MESA, Ariz. — Strangers became close family friends four years ago when an Arizona woman accidentally texted the wrong person.
But this year, the unconventional group will celebrate with one less person.
In 2016, Wanda Dench meant to text her grandchildren when she said sent a message with the date, time and location.
“Let me know if you’re coming,” she wrote.
Jamal Hinton, a stranger, responded and asked for a picture. When Dench sent one, Hinton confirmed that he was not the intended recipient.
“[You’re] not my grandma,” Hinton wrote. “Can I still get a plate [though]?”
“Of course you can,” Dench, 63, responded. “That’s what grandmas do ... Feed everyone.” The text thread went viral.
Since then, Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela, have gone to Dench’s home for Thanksgiving every year.
“Gaining a new grandma -- I thought maybe I’d gain one getting married, but as a friend, it’s great,” Hinton, now 21, said in a November 2018 interview.
“I grew up in the military my dad was in the Navy and my husband ... was in the Army and we moved around a lot so I was always going to new places,” Dench said at the time. “And so strangers were not strangers to me ... Family is more than blood. It’s the people you want to be with.”
This year will be different because Dench’s husband, Lonnie, won’t be there.
He died in April from complications due to COVID-19.
“It will be very sad," Dench told KPNX. “But with friends and family around it will be OK.”
She told the news station that Lonnie “adored Jamal and Mikaela.”
Thanksgiving comes this year a little more than a month after Dench will hold a funeral for her husband.
She told KPNX she waited to have services so that people would feel more comfortable attending in the midst of the pandemic. She also wanted friends and family member to be able to say their goodbyes after coronavirus mandates were lifted.
Hinton hopes he’ll be able to lift Dench’s spirits in the coming month. He plans to attend Thanksgiving, their fifth together, at Dench’s home again this year.
“You never know what God has planned for you,” he said.
More than 5,700 people have died in Arizona due to COVID-19.