There's going to be a lot more pawsitive change now that a local teenage animal advocate has her own pet food pantry.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted the wish of Avery Sontheimer, 14, of Corry, this morning and it was livestreamed by WQLN and Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Avery, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Ewing Sarcoma in July 2020, asked Make-A-Wish for a mobile pet food pantry so she can further help animal shelters across the country through her "Avery's Pawsitive Change" initiative.
As of today, "Avery's Pawsitive Change Spread The Love" GoFundMe page has raised $25,095. The funds are used to send gift cards to animal shelters to help them buy food and supplies. To date, Avery has sent out more than 3,000 gift cards and has collected many donations for the ANNA Shelter in Erie.
Avery's love for helping animals is what has motivated her to stay positive through each treatment, and it’s what inspired her wish to have a mobile pet food pantry.
"I just want to collect donations for animals and animal shelters. I love animals and love seeing them get second chances," Avery said. "It makes me really excited to know that I can expand Avery's Pawsitive Change even more."
Donations of pet food will be stored in the mobile pantry and will then be delivered to shelters.
According to Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Avery noticed a need for pet resources in the Corry-area community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is excited to help as many animals as she can with her wish-come-true.
"That is really an incredible wish; how selfless to take that a once-in-the-lifetime opportunity and making it completely about the animals," said Traci Teudhope of WQLN who emceed the livestream of Avery's wish being granted.
Avery's wish-come-true was held at the Skills Center at the Erie County Technical School in Erie because its students were the ones who built and installed the shelving inside Avery's mobile pet food pantry.
The mobile pet food pantry and numerous bags of dog and cat food, including dry and wet food, as well as treats were revealed to Avery as viewers witnessed it live online.
"I feel very happy that it's finally here. I've been waiting for a long time," Avery said of her Make-A-Wish. "Thank you for granting me this wish. I really appreciate it and I couldn't be more happier."
As part of her surprise wish, a $5,000 check in Avery's name was given to the ANNA Shelter from the PEDIGREE Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to help end pet homelessness that was established by Mars Petcare in 2008.
"They have been so inspired by you and your story of helping pets that they wanted to help bring your pet food pantry to life with this $5,000 grant. The grant will cover future supplies for the pantry for the next year," said Jan Stork, Make-A-Wish vice president of development.
Ruth Thompson, founder and director of the ANNA Shelter, expressed her sincere gratitude for Avery's generosity and is so excited the $5,000 grant will help stock Avery's food pantry. She thanked her directly during the live event.
"I know of no one more deserving than you," Thompson said to Avery. "I'm so excited to be part of this for you. I'm so proud of you, and you are my hero. I'm excited to go on this journey with you."
Mars Petcare also donated a variety of dog and cat food and treats to get Avery's mobile pet food pantry off the ground.
"I really appreciate it and I can't thank you enough. This is a really big help," Avery said.
Avery's wish was originally going to be granted live on World Wish Day, but it was postponed until this morning. World Wish Day is observed annually on April 29 — the anniversary of the wish that inspired the founding of Make-A-Wish in 1980.
Avery, who has gone through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, said "staying positive and helping animals" has gotten her through treatments and all the changes to her life due to her diagnosis.
"I just finished radiation to my lungs not too long ago and I did radiation to my pelvis a while ago," she said. "I finished my last round of chemo about a month ago."
Avery said the hardest part of being a child diagnosed with cancer is "being in the hospital all the time" and she was just in the hospital this past week.
"It's been hard definitely having to adjust our normal daily lives," she said.
Avery is the daughter of Kim Chauncey and Melissa Arnold, of Corry.
"It's definitely been very hard to see her go through the treatments," Melissa said.
Melissa added that she gets through it by "trying to stay positive and looking forward to the future."
Avery has been a longtime volunteer for the ANNA Shelter and aspires to own an animal shelter someday.
For more information about Avery's initiative or to follow along with her journey, visit the GoFundMe page or "Avery's Pawsitive Change" Facebook page, which currently has 8,700 followers.