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Having raised $700K, Wisconsin candle producer eyes $1M goal for Ukraine relief

Door County Candle Company owner has family ties to Ukraine

Several blue and yellow candles are arranged as part of a fundraiser
The Ukraine candles the Door County Candle Company made for its fundraiser are blue and yellow and can burn for about 72 hours, the company’s owner said. Photo courtesy of PBS Wisconsin

Requiring pancake basters and coffee pots to pour wax, the Door County Candle Company and its volunteers have raised $700,000 for relief efforts in Ukraine — and the company’s owner is now aiming for $1 million.

On Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show,” Christiana Gorchynsky Trapani said all profits from the company’s Ukraine candle sales are going to Razom for Ukraine. The nonprofit delivers supplies, such as bandages, tourniquets, medicine and insulin, to war-torn parts of Ukraine. The organization also helps families evacuate, Trapani said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 spurred Trapani to start the fundraiser. She is a second-generation Ukrainian who learned that language before English, PBS Wisconsin reported in March.

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A woman wearing a yellow sweatshirt with a sunflower on it speaks with a customer
Christiana Gorchynsky Trapani, owner of Door County Candle Company, wears a sweatshirt showing a sunflower, a national symbol of Ukraine. Photo courtesy of PBS Wisconsin 

Early in Russia’s invasion, Trapani said her relatives unsuccessfully tried to escape through Russian-blocked borders. A few made it to Poland. Others opted to stay.

“It’s always fearful and nerve-wracking when you go those few days not being able to hear from them,” she said. “But luckily, they’re doing OK.”

In March, her company’s fundraiser gained national media attention, helping to propel nearly 20,000 orders. As of July 14, Trapani said the business had shipped about 28,000 orders with about 7,000 more to go.

“We’re really proud of that because we’re not a big candle shop at all,” she said. “We really had to grow quickly for this.”

A man manufactures candles at a candle shop
Dr. George Gorchynsky helps make candles at the Door County Candle Shop, which his daughter owns. Gorchynsky’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine after World War II. Photo courtesy of PBS Wisconsin

Trapani said volunteers made it possible for the small business — with about 3,000 square feet of space — to handle such capacity in a short time. The company used retail space to pack candles. Her mom is acting as the group’s volunteer coordinator.

The effort powered through supply chain challenges, Trapani said. Waxes, jars, wicks and other materials became harder to find. Prices went up. Trapani said the prices for jars tripled and waxes doubled.

Other challenges emerged, too. Imposters sprouted after the effort gained national attention. Trapani encourages interested buyers to only go through the company’s website.

Each handmade blue and yellow Ukrainian candle takes about two-and-a-half days to make, she said. The candles, with their “lovely smell of vanilla,” can burn for about 72 hours. Trapani said an employee thought the candle smelled like “a big warm hug during difficult times.” Some have called it the “hope candle.”

Trapani said her aunt in Ukraine was in tears after learning about the fundraiser, seeing that a community was standing with them. A board member from Razom visited the company a few weeks ago, providing an in-person connection.

“We felt like long-lost friends,” Trapani said. “It felt like a sense of home, meeting each other. And that was very special.”

Her father’s parents immigrated from Ukraine after World War II. She said she only talked to her grandparents in Ukrainian.

Trapani said she will make it back to Ukraine again. But she said it’s heartbreaking that it won’t be what it once was.

“Ukraine will survive this,” she said. “And we will get through it.”