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This Tennessee Teen Is Feeding the Hungry With a Sweet Recipe for This Baking Staple

William Cabaniss always loved baking, but a question weighed heavily on his heart: How can I use my hobby to help with feeding the hungry? The 15-year-old found an unexpected answer in a sweet recipe that has enabled him to serve more than 420,000 meals in his community.

A Single Act of Kindness

Mixing up a batch of his signature vanilla brownies in the spring of 2020, 14-year-old William couldn’t shake off the TV news report he had watched just minutes earlier.

The segment showed the long lines at food banks around the country, a problem that had plagued many communities for some time, and was made even more dire by the pandemic. This isn’t right. No one should go hungry, the Knoxville, Tennessee teen’s heart echoed.

William went on to volunteer at the soup kitchen at his grandmother’s church for several years. Still, he thought about that news report he’d heard long ago, and he knew there must be more he could do.

The Idea That Launched a Nonprofit

One day, while pouring vanilla extract into his brownie batter, an idea hit. William had heard that, like himself, many people were spending their time in lockdown baking. He knew vanilla extract was a key ingredient in many dessert recipes and had a long shelf life. What if I could make my own vanilla extract and sell it to help raise money for those in need? 

“That’s a great idea,” his parents agreed. William began researching how to make vanilla extract and, after many trials, he perfected his own unique recipe that uses premium Madagascar vanilla beans. He went on to design a website ( and logo, and he found a shipping method and the perfect bottle. In May of 2020, William’s nonprofit was launched and Vanilla Feeds Tomorrow took off. Each 8 ounce bottle sells for $30, which is enough to provide 42 meals.

Giving back feels good!

William Cabaniss with Vanilla Feeds Tomorrow products
William Cabaniss

All proceeds from Vanilla Feeds Tomorrow go to the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, which supports several food pantries, organizations, and families within 18 local counties.

Today, thanks to the generosity of people nationwide, William has donated over $140,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank. William beams to think that an impromptu idea he had in his kitchen has made it possible for more than 421,215 meals to reach people in need, an achievement that has earned him awards and recognition. But it’s knowing that there are families no longer going hungry that means the most.

“It’s amazing how much can come from each small bottle,” William marvels. “There’s no better feeling than to make a difference and change someone’s life.”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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