Jamal Hinton and Wanda Dench, the internet sensations that went viral in 2016 due to an accidental text that led to them spending Thanksgiving together, are now inviting two lucky people to dine with them ahead of Thanksgiving this year.
As Blavity previously reported, the two friends initially met Thanksgiving Day nearly eight years ago when the now 66-year-old texted her grandson’s number, not knowing he had changed it, to share dinner plans for the holiday. The now 25-year-old was on the receiving end of the invite and asked if he could still come after sending pictures to each other to confirm the mix-up, to which she replied, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do…feed everyone.”
They’ve continued the tradition every year since meeting and have built a close bond, which has a continuously growing fanbase. The beloved buds have grown so popular that Netflix plans to make a movie highlighting their heartwarming story eventually.
Hinton and Dench recently partnered with Airbnb to open the doors of the elder’s home to celebrate their family-like relationship. As of Nov. 14, people can request an overnight stay at Dench’s home and a seat at their Thanksgiving dinner on Airbnb’s site. The price for the night will be just $16 to honor the year the pair first connected. The exclusive one-night stay for up to two guests will be on Nov. 20. Airbnb will also donate to Feeding America, a nonprofit “working to end hunger in the United States,” according to its site.
Hinton and Dench sat down with Blavity to discuss how their relationship began, how it’s grown in eight years and their hopes for their Airbnb collaboration.
In addition to Wanda’s kindness, what made you take her up on the invitation? Did your family not have plans at the time since you mentioned you knew it wasn’t your grandmother who texted you in 2016?
Jamal Hinton: Honestly, I think at that time in my life I was very wild. I mean, I was in high school. I felt like I was always told that I was an outgoing person, so I tried to make friends with any and everyone. And if you were to reach out, and you seem like you have a lick of kindness in your heart, then I would always take a chance with you. And I felt like Wanda had the kindness, not just a lick. She had a lot of kindness, and I wanted to take a chance and meet ’em.
I’ve always had plans for Thanksgiving since I can remember when I was a kid. My mom and my father are split. They split up when I was a kid, so I’d always have my mother’s Thanksgiving and my father’s Thanksgiving.
What was your family’s initial reaction when you told them that Jamal, someone you had never met, would join you for dinner in 2016?
Wanda Dench: When I think about it, it was not eventful at all. I’ve had, you know, every grandkid always brings extra friends and people, so there was always somebody I didn’t know at all [on] holidays. My dad was in the Navy, and my husband was in the Army. When you’re overseas and on bases and you’re not close to your family, you invite all the single people that are around that don’t have family, and they just come over, and you meet everybody, and you already feel like family. So, none of my family was surprised at all when I said, “Hey, we’re having an extra guest.” Except they were surprised when all the media came. We had more media than we had family members at our first Thanksgiving.
You said in an interview that Jamal changed your perspective on forging new friendships. What have been some surprising commonalities you two share that helped cultivate the friendship enough to continue the tradition?
WD: Well, for me, it was pivotal. It was a few months later, and we’d gone out to dinner together. I think that was Rudy’s, my husband’s favorite barbecue place, and it was Mikayla and Jamal and my husband and I, and I was so glad because, during that first Thanksgiving and so much of the media and all the excitement, I didn’t get to really sit down and talk with Jamal to get to know him because it was too much going on, right? So, when the four of us got together, we had good food and great conversation, but we were there for hours and hours and nonstop talking, joking. We could relate to anything and everything that we talked about.
As my husband and I were driving home, I turned to him and said, “What just happened?” We were there, what, three hours? It was awesome. It was wonderful that we never paid attention to the time. We were like best friends instantly, you know?
How has it been to have his additional support since the passing of your husband, Lonnie?
WD: That was really awesome. I remember the evening when I heard some rustling and heard something at the door, but no doorbell rang or anything. So I got up to open the door, and I had to stay quarantined because I had COVID as well, so I had my screen door; I always kept that locked. Then, I saw Mikayla and Jamal turning around to walk away, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so happy you’re here. I know you can’t come in,” but they had left me some food and stuff, and they took the time and got people to speak, give their condolences, and I was like…I couldn’t stop crying when I was watching that. It still chokes me up.
Since becoming friends, have you made any additional friends with whom you never thought you’d build a relationship?
JH: For me, it’s making it much easier. I mean I’d always like have my friends, and I’d talk to ’em all the time. And through school, I guess you could say I was known growing up as like the class clown or whatever, but I noticed that back during that time before I met Wanda, I would be a little bit standoffish a little bit to like adults or the older crowd or anything like that. Now, I kind of treat everyone equally. I mean, I feel like right now my best friends are my 12-year-old kids that I coach, and then my other best friends are like Mikayla’s aunts who are like 42 or something like that. So, I try not to just stick with my age because they’re my age, and I felt like that’s all I was taught growing up.
WD: I’ve always been a social butterfly, so I’ve had no problem talking with people in my age group or older or maybe just a little younger. But when it came to teenagers and people in their early 20s, I used to not know how to even have a conversation with them. And I have grandkids that are in their 20s now, but they’re different ’cause I’ve known them since they were from birth, right? But now, when I go places like in my neighborhood, some of ’em have teenagers, and so when I go over to their house for a barbecue or whatever, I make it a point to include that teenager and talk to them. And I don’t talk down to them; I talk on an equal level with them and give them that respect as if they were just the same as every age. They’re like all of us.
Every year since your initial story was shared, fans anxiously look to you guys on Thanksgiving; the tradition is being kept alive. How did you know the partnership with Airbnb was perfect for you?
JH: Well, Wanda would tell you with me, I’ve been wanting to do that for actually some years now…almost since the first year I’ve been wanting to. Like I said, I’m more of a people person, so I think like the first year out, I told Wanda I wanna do like a dinner for like 100 people or something like that.
WD: I remember! I was like, “Whoa, slow down.” Let’s start with 50, not 100.
JH: For me. Um, it’s always been like a great idea, and then when we partnered up with Airbnb and they kind of said the same exact thing, of course, on a lower scale, I was just like, “Yes, I’m all for it!” And then when Wanda gave me the go, I was like, “Cool. Make it happen.”
What do you hope the lucky winners take away from fellowshipping over a Thanksgiving dinner?
WD: I kind of hope that they just have such a pleasant and enjoyable visit and that we all have a good conversation in food, and has nothing to do with the fact that Jamal and I have some internet celebrity status. I hope that gets dismissed really quickly and that we all are just on equal grounds talking about everything. Like I said, the first time, Jamal, my husband, Mikayla, and I had a real good talk. I just love good conversations; I love learning from other people, and when they talk about their experiences or how they see the world or whatever it is, I just love, love, love that. I just hope they walk away like, “Wow, we could be good friends with them or neighbors with them and that would be wonderful.”
JH: I don’t think I could have said it better. I feel like I want them to walk away and just be able to say like, “Wow, those are some really good people.” That’s kind of how I was raised, too. I just want them to know like, “Hey, we’re real people. We’re good people and we could be cool to hang out with too.” I want them to also take away like, kind of the same thing that me and Wanda have learned over the years, that again, you don’t have to be like the same age or like the same things or anything like that to be friends with someone. You can really just be nice to anyone just because they are a human being.
Since you’ll be feasting with some others ahead of Thanksgiving, did this change your menu for the holiday?
WD: They’ll all be the same. Turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, pumpkin pie. Uh, those are my favorites. And it’s odd that I really don’t cook and eat all that kind of food until Thanksgiving, and I love that food. So I don’t know why I don’t just cook it all year long, but no. My favorite is having Turkey sandwiches the day after.
JH: Same food. I mean, like I said, every year I go to at least four to five different Thanksgivings or Friendsgivings. And I make sure it’s the same food because I’m like, “Hey, I’m not gonna have turkey in July.”
Would you continue paying it forward by extending an invite to others on your own or through partnerships with companies like Airbnb?
JH: A hundred percent. I think it’d be great. We would talk with each other first, but I would love to make plans for that.
If you could give some sound advice to anyone who may be struggling with family or some personal things when it comes to building relationships with others, what would it be?
JH: Keep moving forward in life. There will always be ups and downs, whether it’s with family or friends or anything like that, but you have to realize that there are billions of people in this world, and you’re not alone at all. So, if you don’t get along with the person next to you or the people that you grew up with or anything like that, that’s OK. There is a crowd for you. Just keep looking for it; one day, you’ll find it.
WD: Find your tribe then you will always be your authentic self. Look for the joy in yourself, and that way you can share it with others. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that says “practice makes progress,” and I loved it ’cause there’s no such thing as perfection, and you just put one foot in front of the other every day. And I’ve learned just recently ’cause I moved to a new place going from Phoenix up to Prescott Valley that what you put out, you get back.