'Thanksgiving Grandma' Celebrates First Holiday After Her Husband's Death Due to COVID-19

Wanda Dench first went viral in 2016 when she accidentally invited Jamal Hinton to her Thanksgiving celebration instead of her grandson 

Photo: Jamal Hinton

Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton have found a way to continue their yearly Thanksgiving tradition, despite the coronavirus pandemic and the death of her husband, Lonnie, earlier this year.

Dench and Hinton first went viral in 2016 when the grandmother accidentally texted him, inviting him to dinner. She had meant to text her grandson, but he had changed his number and the message was sent to Hinton, then 17, instead.

Despite the mix-up, Hinton ended up accepting Dench's invitation and the two have been friends ever since — with a new holiday tradition to reunite for their Thanksgiving meal. Last November, they reunited for the fourth year in a row.

This year, however, the pair met up on Friday for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, fearing that meeting up on the holiday and then seeing their respective families would be unsafe in light of the ongoing pandemic.

During the meal, they honored Lonnie, Dench's husband who died of the coronavirus in April. Dench and Hinton put out a plate setting for Lonnie, placing a framed photo of him and a candle on the table, according to a series of photos shared by CBS reporter Briana Whitney.

“It’s going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him,” Dench recently told The New York Times. “My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we’ve done.”

Hinton shared the news of Lonnie’s death on Twitter in April, writing that Lonnie “did not make it” and “passed away Sunday morning.” Dench had also tested positive for the virus, but did not get sick, he said at the time.

“Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!” he wrote.

Hinton, now 21, told the Times that his close friendship with Dench is proof that “you can be family with anybody.”

“After meeting her the first time I just knew, she’s another person, age is really just a number,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, you can be friends with anybody, you can be family with anybody.”

“I’m just grateful that we are here, we are together,” Hinton added. “I don’t know what I would be doing for the holidays this year, last year or years before if I didn’t have Wanda in my life, so I’m just grateful.”

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