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'Thanksgiving Grandma' keeps up tradition despite COVID loss

·1-min read

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman who drew widespread attention after opening her Thanksgiving table to a stranger she accidentally texted has kept the tradition going, despite losing her husband to COVID-19.

Jamal Hinton, 21, and Dench met in 2016 after the grandmother from the Phoenix suburb of Mesa texted her grandson about coming for Thanksgiving to a number that belonged to Hinton. Hinton jokingly replied he would like to come. Dench told him he was welcome.

Hinton tweeted screenshots of their exchange and subsequent meeting. Four years later, their continuing joint celebration has turned into a tradition that social media users have come to expect every Thanksgiving. Dench has been dubbed “Thanksgiving Grandma” on the internet.

“I didn’t want to miss Thanksgiving with Jamal,” Wanda Dench told AZFamily.com. This year is definitely different than all the years in the past.”

The two don't just talk in November. Hinton reached out when she and her husband, Lonnie, contracted COVID-19 in March. Dench had a mild case but Lonnie Dench had to be hospitalized and died in April.

After her husband's death, Dench said Hinton and his girlfriend dropped off a care package and a flash drive with video sympathy messages collected from social media.

Last Friday, Hinton and Dench celebrated a mini Thanksgiving dinner in Lonnie Dench's honor. The table included a photo of Lonnie Dench and a candle in front of an empty chair.

“I miss him, but I know he’s in a good place," Dench said.