‘Vanilla’ youth’s $45,000 gift

FHS freshman finds unique way to give; product sought around globe

  • Donating proceeds from his charity, Vanilla Feeds Tomorrow, Farragut High School freshman William Cabaniss presented a check to Second Harvest of East Tennessee earlier this month, which was accepted by Rachel Ellis, SHET director of development. - Photos submitted

  • Cabaniss appeared on Mike Huckabee’s show, Huckabee, earlier this month to discuss the charity, - Photos submitted

What started as a small project earlier this year by Farragut High School freshman William Cabaniss has hit the big time, raising more than $45,000 for Second Harvest of East Tennessee — and leading to an appearance on national television.

Cabaniss announced his project, Vanilla Feeds Tomorrow, in May, with the goal of making and selling vanilla specifically to benefit the non-profit Second Harvest, and presented a $45,000 check for sales processed to the organization Thursday, Dec. 10.

According to SHFB officials, that amount will provide 135,000 meals to people in Knox and surrounding counties.

“Gratitude can help in times like these and Second Harvest will forever and always be grateful for William,” Rachael Ellis, Second Harvest director of Development, said. “He has gone above and beyond to help in the fight against hunger.  William set out on a mission and he has been extremely successful. He has been able to raise an enormous amount of awareness and $45,000 [equates to] 135,000 meals for Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee.

“William is a true hunger hero and the commitment he has made makes a difference in the lives of thousands of our East Tennessee neighbors,” she added.

Vanilla may have seemed an unusual fundraiser choice, but it has spread into 49 states — and has earned attention across the globe.

“He has had orders from every state but Rhode Island, and had requests to buy from Germany, Canada, France, Australia and Brazil,” said his mother, Jillina, although William later confirmed he only ships within the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.

It takes him anywhere from two to three weeks to make a fresh batch, a process he oversees in the family’s Farragut home. Each bottle costs $30, with all proceeds going back to Second Harvest.

Many orders came in following his appearance earlier this month on the Mike Huckabee Show, where Cabaniss talked about his charity and its focus.

“That was such an amazing experience,” he said. “I had never done anything like that before, and it was really great.”

Cabaniss was featured by the Good News Network earlier this year, which led to other opportunities through Southern Living magazine, then ultimately to Huckabee.

He and the charity also have been featured locally.

“He always had a heart for those who went hungry, and helping the cause is something he has worked for in other ways for many years,” Jillina said.

Along with his father, Mark Cabaniss, Jillina said the couple “are so thankful for everyone that continues to support and encourage William as he works so hard to make a difference.”

“I am trying to make as much of an impact as I can because at the end of the day, no one should be hungry,” the junior Cabaniss said.

For more information, visit www.Vanillafeedstomorrow.com.