Christiana Gorchynsky Trapani is a 2nd generation Ukrainian-American and owner of the Door County Candle Company, located in scenic Door County, Wisconsin. The candle store has been a local tradition for generations of families for over 25 years. Door County Candle Company is truly a special store. The company has developed and mastered classic and unique scents for over two decades, while all candles are hand poured and handcrafted at the store. Christiana is a Door County native and assumed ownership of Door County Candle just over a year ago. And boy has business taken an unexpected turn. In only a few months, Door County Candle has had to triple production capacity to handle an influx of orders–thanks to a fundraising campaign that Christiana is spearheading to support Ukraine. Christiana, together with her team at Door County Candle Company and the help of countless volunteers in the local community and outside the area, have now raised well over $800,000 to support Ukraine and they’re expecting to reach $1 million by the end of 2022 or early 2023. And Christiana has no plans of slowing things down.
Watch the video timeline for a view into Door County Candle Company and read their incredible story.
We recently talked to Christiana about her fundraising efforts and also her close connections to Ukraine. Now, here’s Christiana’s story…
Christiana grew up immersed in Ukrainian culture. She learned to speak Ukrainian before English and continues to speak Ukrainian at home, especially when conversing with her grandmother. She attended Plast (the National Scout Organization of Ukraine) as a young girl, has enjoyed Ukrainian cuisine and other aspects of Ukrainian culture all of her life — and she remains very close to the Ukrainian community, both in the United States and Ukraine. Her parents have strong connections to the Ukrainian community in Chicago, and she has stayed close to her extended family living in Ukraine.
When Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Christiana and her family watched the horrific events unfold on the news and couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Her grandmother, now in her early 80s, immigrated to the US after WWII and felt as if she was re-living the horrors of the past. The family, like many people watching the war unfold, felt helpless.
Christiana was immediately in touch with her family members living in Ukraine to get a first-hand account of what was happening on the ground. She commented, “they couldn’t believe it and were terrified.” Christiana speaks with her Aunt and other family members living in Ukraine on a regular basis and has seen their personal video footage of planes in the distance dropping bombs in neighboring towns. Family members were horrified and scared for their lives, but now they are somehow learning to live with the cloud of uncertainty.
From the first day of the war, Christiana knew that she had to do something to help. At first she didn’t know exactly what that would be, but soon enough she came up with an idea that would very quickly evolve into a million-dollar fundraising campaign: The Ukraine Candle
“This is Christiana, owner of Door County Candle Company. As a Ukrainian-American, what’s happening in Ukraine is hitting me, and many others, deep to my core. We strongly condemn Russia’s shameful and unprovoked war. We are heartbroken, concerned and scared for all of those in Ukraine. I am working on a fundraiser to donate all profits from a special Ukrainian candle to a certified Ukrainian organization. There will be more information to follow. We continue to keep Ukraine, our families and our friends, in our thoughts and prayers. ”
— Christiana Trapani, Facebook, February 25, 2022
How did the “Light To Unite” campaign and Ukraine candle come to be…
Christiana decided to leverage her business to support Ukraine. The team at Door County Candle acted fast to create a unique specialty candle specifically for the fundraising campaign that Christiana announced on Facebook. The Ukrainian flag served as inspiration for the candle’s design.
Christiana added the unique candle to Door County Candle’s stock items for sale online and in the store.
Razom For Ukraine has a long history of exceptional work that focuses on building a prosperous Ukraine. The organization was born out of the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 when millions of people worked together and risked their lives to build a pathway to a better future for their country. Since that time, Razom has grown into one of the leading nonprofits supporting Ukraine, providing critical humanitarian relief on the ground. Razom means “together” in Ukrainian and serves as a constant reminder of the community it takes to create, build and do. Christiana, already part of the Ukrainian community, extended her network of connections to Razom for Ukraine.
Setting high goals…or maybe not?
Christiana initially set a $5,000 target goal for donations. She remembers her dad remarking, “that’s a lot of candles to sell.” Christiana agreed that it was a high mark to set, but she was determined to make it happen.
Little did they know…
Family, friends, and community members spread the word about the shop’s special Ukraine Candle, and also helped to pitch the story to local news outlets. The story of the Ukraine Candle soon made it to the airwaves. Before long, the shop received over 3,000 candle orders, which already exceeded Christiana’s initial sales target. But it didn’t end there. The story was then covered by World News Tonight with David Muir and PBS Wisconsin. Orders didn’t roll in after that — they flooded in. Before long Christiana and her quaint, small-town candle shop were getting big city sales with over 20,000 orders in hand. This completely maxed production capacity.
Careful what you wish for…
Even with the orders coming in, Christiana didn’t panic. With the resiliency and agility of a true Ukrainian, she led her team to quickly ramp up capacity. But how? The store simply did not have the space to produce and package the type of volume required to fulfill the incoming orders, nor did they have the human resources! Christiana explained that, “we had to get real creative, real fast.” The physical location of Door County Candle Company is about 3,000 sq ft, consisting of a small shop up front with manufacturing, stocking, and a shipping area in the back – all under the same roof. So what were they to do?
“We had to think of ways to reconfigure the space to allow for more production, so we reduced the size of our store area, moving some shelves and other fixtures around, and found a way to make it work”
Christiana and her team got creative and quickly reconfigured the workspace to allow for more production, but what about manpower? With a small team of 9 employees, Door County Candle did not have the human resources to produce such a high volume of candles. Family, friends, and many people, both local and non-local, volunteered to help— and they kept up with demand. Christiana’s dad Dr. George Gorchynsky, an ER doctor, all of sudden became a part-time candle maker after his “day job.” Her mom came and still comes to the shop daily to help pull orders to be shipped. And Christiana’s husband has also volunteered his time and has helped a lot. Christiana’s grandmother is also routinely helping at the shop. And the previous shop owner emerged from retirement to lend a hand.
Volunteers from the local community and beyond — dozens of people and many with no direct connections to Ukraine — stepped up to lend a hand. Before she knew it, Christiana had an army of candle makers banding together to support Ukraine. The feeling of hopelessness that Christiana and her family felt early on when the war broke out was the same feeling that resonated with so many people in her local community. It seemed that everyone wanted to help in some way.
Christiana’s grandmother (above) routinely volunteers to help.
Door County Coffee & Tea Co. has been volunteering to help since the first day of the fundraiser.
During our conversation, Christiana reflected on the incredible army of volunteers who quickly joined forces to help out in whatever capacity was needed: cleaning glass jars, wicking candles, boxing candles for shipment, or something else. It didn’t matter what they had to do, they did whatever was needed. Christiana attributes a big part of their success to the employees working around the clock and the many volunteers that continue to provide support. Christiana commented, “We couldn’t have done it — and we couldn’t continue — without the support of our volunteers.” She is extremely grateful for all this support, a shining star in the midst of a very dark time for Ukraine.
Volunteers from near and far have come to help Door County Candle Company with the fundraiser.
Still going strong as Door County Candle celebrates Ukrainian Independence Day with a “Light To Unite” Ceremony
Door County Candle Company recently launched a special promotion leading up to Ukrainian Independence Day on August 24th. Traditionally this day is one of the most celebrated days in Ukraine. This year it also marked exactly six months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In honor of the day, Door County Candle Company expanded its fundraising efforts for the weeks leading up to Independence Day by donating $5 from every online sale of its traditional yellow and blue Lakeshore 16-ounce candles – the official colors of the Ukrainian flag. As of August 24th, Door Candle Company raised $800,000 for Razom for Ukraine. The team is getting even closer to their donation goal of $1 million!
Door County Candle Company reaches another milestone with $800,000 in donations.
On August 24th in honor of Ukrainian Independence Day, Christiana, her family, the team at Door County Candle, and members of the community showed their continued support for Ukraine with a “Light to Unite” candle ceremony. Anastasia Rab, Board Member at Razom for Ukraine, was also on hand to celebrate the day and express gratitude and thanks to Christiana and the incredible team at Door County Candle. During her remarks, Anastasia commented that Door County Candle was their single biggest donor, an amazing achievement for this small-town candle company.
Volunteers and staff hold lighted Ukraine candles during a special ceremony held on August 24th, which represents Ukrainian Independence Day. It also marked $800,000 in donations to Razom for Ukraine.
At the close of the “Light To Unite” ceremony, everyone in attendance joined in to light a Ukrainian Candle, spoke prayers in both Ukrainian and English, and finished the evening by singing the Ukrainian national anthem. Click here to watch the “Light to Unite” cermony.
Christiana shown above with her parents and grandmother
Since Christiana has direct connections to family in Ukraine, she routinely gets a first-hand account of what’s happening on the ground. She speaks to her Aunt a few times each week and remarked that the destruction in Ukraine and its impact on the lives of Ukrainians on the ground is far worse than most people realize. The situation just keeps getting worse as time goes on and more people’s lives are disrupted and communities destroyed. It’s more important than ever for the global community to continue its support for Ukraine.
Christiana and Nic Trapani
A message to Ukrainians…
At the close of our conversation with Christiana, we asked if there was anything that she would like to say to the people of Ukraine to help them hold on to their strength and remain resolute and hopeful. She answered, “Slava Ukraini, Heroyam Slava!” which means “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes!” The statement encapsulates the spirit of Ukraine, communicating hope, resilience, and that Ukraine will never give up its freedom.
Join Door County Candle Company by purchasing a Ukraine Candle.
Door County Candle is continuing to donate 100% of its profits from its Ukraine candle to Razom for Ukraine. Help Christiana and the team reach their target goal. Order the specialty Ukraine candle online at the Door County Candle website.