It is her most popular item. The small yet powerful bars of soap showcase a relief of the tree of life.
“Tourists buy them as gifts for their friends,” said Dimitra Pastras of Gulfport.
At the city’s Tuesday morning market, her booth provides custom tactile objects of love and life for seller, buyer, gift recipients and kids who are battling cancer – all in memory of her dad.
The symbol looks like her mission, which is called the Avocado Tree Project.
“My dad planted the tree shortly after 9/11 in 2001. It has fed the homeless, friends, family and neighbors. When he died in 2009, I inherited his Gulfport home and the tree,” she said.
Of all the features of her dad’s property, this avocado tree may be the most special to Pastras. First she tried to give the extra fruit away in boxes that she set by the curb. But like her dad, the tree is full of life. She couldn’t keep up.
“If you ever walked into a room where my father was and there was a crowd of his friends, you could always find him surrounded by children and pets,” said Pastras. “He was a philanthropist and was always donating to Boys Clubs.”
The sturdy, tall tree greets her each time she pulls into her driveway. It is not treated with pesticides or fertilizer. The Florida sunshine and her mission is what inspires it to thrive.
“I was an only child and definitely a daddy’s girl,” she said. “He was an amazing man. I wanted to honor him and his tree.”
So, she figured out how to preserve the delicate fruit to transform its oils and pits into cleansing soaps and jewelry. “Artisan Products for the Body & Soul. All from one tree,” says the printed label that comes with each item.
Yes, even the pits. She makes and carves special pieces from the tree so everything is one of a kind.
For Pastras, the project is part of her therapy to deal with the losses of special people in her life. The logo is a tree with three hearts representing her dad, her best friend Sherrie and herself. Pastras is a cancer survivor.
The project is also her way to help find a cure for cancer.
One dollar from each sale is donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee. Often, at the market, customers also donate their change.
“I send the charity a check each quarter,” she said. “They give back 100 percent. No child should have to go through what they do. It’s heart wrenching.”
The focus of Pastras’ project is not about making a profit, she says. It is about cleansing away the power that disease can have to steal time and instead, focusing on the gifts of life.
Especially, lives well lived.
Learn more at avocadotreeproject.com.