William Cabaniss, 15, of Knoxville, Tennessee, a freshman at Farragut High School, has raised more than $45,000 to provide nearly 135,000 meals to hungry people in his community through his local food bank by making pure vanilla extract and selling it across the country. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, William saw a news story about record-breaking lines at food banks. That really bothered him because he knew a little about hunger; he had once volunteered at a food bank and soup kitchen, and attended a school where 90 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunches. During a commercial break, William, an avid baker, went to make vanilla brownies. “It hit me – I could sell vanilla extract to support those fighting hunger,” he said.
He researched where to find the best vanilla beans, how much they cost, and how to turn them into extract. He settled on premium beans from Madagascar, and got to work. He packaged his extract in 8-ounce bottles and began marketing them on a website and social media. Over the course of one two-day period, he received so many orders he had to call on family members and friends to help fulfill them. Since then, he has sold thousands of bottles and donated all of his profits to the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. “Record-breaking hunger across the nation and my surrounding area in 2020 compelled me to do something to help,” William said. “I would not be satisfied with eating when I knew many would not be.”