Dorothy Wintschel is a resourceful, creative and talented artist. She's also extremely practical, which is why she made a decision years ago to learn the craft of soapmaking. Little did she know that this skill would become a way for her to make a lasting impact on the lives of the world's most vulnerable.
Our recent interview with Dorothy was one of the most moving and vulnerable conversations we've had. When offered the option of censoring some of what she had shared, Dorothy expressed the following thought:
"‘People should be real. They should be real and if it makes a difference for somebody else, then it’s all worth it.
We look at people’s lives and we think that they have it all, the perfect house and family, but we don’t know what they’ve come through to be in that place.
Sometimes people just need to know that you can overcome.”
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Alberta. I grew up and we moved around a lot, but basically in Alberta. And then when I was about 25 or so we moved to Vancouver Island. I was there for about 25 years and then I moved to the mainland so I’ve been in the Vancouver area for the last 5 or 6 years I guess. And who am I? Well… I am just a girl.
I used to have a store in Aldergrove, but I was in a couple of automobile accidents so I had to close that. Now I just do some volunteer work. I live in a condominium that’s mainly seniors and they’re lovely, so I teach some of the ladies line dancing and we do exercises in the pool in the mornings.
The building next door does lunch for seniors three times a week. I serve there, I do some visitations in some nursing homes, I run a music jam… and I make soap, I make lots of soap.
Tell us about your personal justice journey – why are you passionate about the work of justice?
This is going to be hard because I grew up in a home where I was sexually abused by my grandfather and an uncle. We had several businesses, so starting from when I was 10 and my brother was 12, we went to work. We went to school, and then we went to work every day.
We worked sometimes until one or two in the morning and came home and weren’t allowed to have homework - because only idiots had homework. If we had homework, we were doing it under our blankets with flashlights at night.
It was not a very easy life.
But actually, the working wasn’t that bad for me. I didn’t mind doing that. It was the verbal abuse; that my father could never say a kind word and he was really very abusive verbally.
When I was 13 or so, my father took his fists to me, so I left. I lived on the street for a couple of years. You can imagine what my life was like there – it was Alberta so it was cold, it wasn’t nice like it is here.
Then I just wanted a job. Actually, I was picked up first, because I was a runaway, and I was made a ward of the court. Then I was made to work, and I was sent to a group home. Later my grandma said that she would take me, so I went to live with my grandma when I was probably fifteen or at least close to that. I got a job at City Bakery and started working, and continued working and then I had a child. But you know, even when I was young I could never deal with…
It hurts me to see someone hurt. It creates pain for me.
Anyway, then I had children. I also took care of my grandmother. I had two little boys and their dad left, which meant I was taking care of two little boys and my grandmother until she went into a nursing home. And then I moved to the island to take care of my dad. Everyone said to me, "How can you take care of him, he was so mean?” But he was still my father.
It’s the things we go through that make us who we are. If I had to do it all again, I don’t know that I would change anything because it would make me a different person. And through all of it, I got closer to God, because He was the only one there for me.
How are you working to create change?
I don’t know if I am! I just love on people. I try to make people’s lives better. When someone’s sick, I’ll make them soup.
But you know, God’s really put your ministry on my heart because I read those stories and I think of people who have no out and there’s no one to help them.
And you know if I could, I would just save everybody. I think if everybody did a little bit, it would change the world.
What inspired you to start the project?
Because of the accidents I was in, I don’t think that I can physically do a full-time job now. I have a lot of trouble with my back and neck, and I need to create some kind of income. I am on a disability income, which is just over $900 a month, but I need to supplement it.
In our church is a lady who wanted to start an orphanage and so she started baking banana bread. Now she’s built this huge orphanage in Africa, and she supports it with the banana bread that she sells. And I thought, ‘If someone can do this with banana bread, I should be able to do it with soap.’
I love baking too actually, but I just have a tiny little kitchen, so I thought I would try to make soap. And like I said – your ministry has been on my heart for a long time. Anything I do I would like to be able to support you with what I’m doing.
I just think of the little kids, and moms, and even dads that are forced to work, and the sexually exploited little people – it just breaks my heart.
How did you learn to make soap?
The first time I ever made soap was years ago. We had just moved to the island and I was a single mom with two little boys. I met a man at church, we got married, and we were living way in the bush in this little 600 square foot cabin.
I tried to do everything I could myself – I grew all our vegetables, and we had chickens and ducks. So I thought I should learn how to make soap. I had a whole bunch of books, so I just started making soap with tallow.
That was the first time I made soap, but soap has come a long way since then. Now we use all kinds of really beautiful oils and different butters and all kinds of things that make it pretty exciting for me.
I love art, so turning the soaps into little bits of artwork is really fun for me.
How long does it take to make soap? And have you ever had a batch fail?
You know, I have had batches fail. And so what I do then is I shred it. Some of the soaps have little tiny shreds in them, like the confetti soaps. You can’t really fail soap. I try to re-batch it. You can shred it up and then heat it up with water, turn it back into a slurry and then mold it into soap. Ninety percent of the time you can re-batch it into something else.
To just make regular soap, you just heat up your oils to a certain temperature, and then you mix your lye, and when they are both within about 10 degrees of each other – you have to watch the temperature, and I’ll take it every 5 to 10 minutes.
Sometimes if something is cooling off too fast you either have to bring the other one down with ice water, or heat the other one back up. When they are within 10 degrees of one another, you pour the lye into the oil and you stir – if you have a stick blender it’s much faster. You blend it until it comes to 'trace'. Trace is when you lift the stick blender up, if the soap dripping down stays on top - that’s trace. From there you can pour it into your molds.
Of course, that makes it sound really easy. But it’s not quite that simple because you’re adding scents and colours which can accelerate it or ease it, there’s other things that come into play. Then you leave it in your mold overnight, 24 hours usually. And then you can unmold it and cut it. I do mine in loaf molds. You cut them, and then you need to let them cure for at least 4 to 6 weeks, so that the pH balance is really mild for the skin.
I think most people don’t know that it takes so long. If you go to a craft store you can buy melt and pour soap, and that’s where people have already made your soap. But they make it glycerin soap, so it’s already all heated up. It’s called a hot process. So they take what I just told you – that cold process – and they heat it and heat it and heat it, and it creates glycerin.
They pour it into molds, and then people buy that, they cut it up, melt it, and pour it into their molds with whatever scents they want. So that’s called melt and pour soap, and that doesn’t need to cure because when they heat it, it’s already gone through all that process. You just have to heat it, melt it, pour it, and then you have soap to go.
Do you have a favourite variety of the soap that you make?
I do. I try to make soaps that are all really nice on the skin, but my favourite soaps are the ones that contain all the butters. Because when you wash with them, afterwards you can feel your skin and it’s just like silk. It’s like touching a baby’s bottom, you’re silk all over and I love to make those. They’re a lot more expensive to make, but they feel so nice on your body.
My favourite one has shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter, and sea salt. And so when you wash with it the sea salt is just very mildly exfoliating.
As you wash with it, all these butters go into your skin and it’s just heavenly.
How much do those bars cost?
They are $7. In the spas, they charge about $14. I would put the price up if I knew people would support [International Justice Mission] more. But I want it to be affordable too because I want people to have access to a little bit of luxury.
So what is your goal for this project? We haven’t actually said the name of it yet!
I wanted to call it "Soap for Hope,” but apparently there’s a company in Alberta that uses that name already, so I called it "Soap Angel’s Soap for Hope.” I do have a Facebook page with that name, but I’m not very good at electronic stuff so I’m still trying to create a label for the front of the soap. And I’m having a really hard time for that. But hopefully, God-willing, it’s all going to come together.
Ultimately I’d like to be able to create a couple hundred dollars for me to live on and then offer the rest to support you. My goal would be to have everybody who is enslaved somewhere to be free.
I’m so thrilled – there are stories I read where the police come alongside you, and I think to myself, ‘that hasn’t happened in those countries for a really long time.’ And it makes a big difference because it helps to create justice where there is none.
Those things make a big difference and no one else is doing that as far as I know, you guys are the only ones.
It’s not just getting people out of [bad situations], it’s creating an environment where people are going to be treated fairly.
I just think it’s so important.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced with Soap Angel?
It’s mostly the electronic. I don’t know if you really want to know all this, but in order to get started I had to create some income to buy all these oils and butters and scents. So I sold my bed and I sold my dresser. I still have a little single bed, I don’t want anyone to think, ‘Oh no, she doesn’t have a bed’. I do, I do. And I still had some things left from my business, so I sold those. Whenever I sold something I would buy soap stuff.
It was a challenge to get all that together, but now I have mostly everything, and I definitely have what I need to create really nice soaps. I would like to get some other molds, but really I have everything I need now.
Really for me the biggest struggle is creating these labels which I’m really not good at, and creating a packaging which I wasn’t sure of. But I’ve picked up a little shrink wrap machine which I got off of Craig’s List, and I’m shrink wrapping them now. I’ve printed the ingredient labels – I’ve got that figured out now, I’m not going to worry about the sticky labels which I can’t seem to get to fit. I kept printing and it wasn’t fitting on the label, it kept going past and I was getting really frustrated.
Now I’m just printing it and putting it on the soap and vacuum-sealing it inside the package. It doesn’t need to stick to anything. Now I just need a label for the front and business cards.
If someone wanted to purchase one of your soaps, how would they do that?
I guess they could email me, or they could do it from my Facebook page.
There is an issue with shipping. As I said, to send one bar to you was going to be $15, but to send a whole box of almost 30 bars was only $25. And there isn’t another way to ship them. If you buy 4 bars or 6 bars it’s still $15.
It’s because they have this little slot that it has to fit into, and to make it cheaper I would have to make really skinny soaps. Nobody wants that because it would melt right away, you’d have like a week’s worth of soap. I’ve tried UPS and Fed-Ex and it’s the same. I actually went online to Etsy to see what others are doing, and they are charging $15 to ship a bar of soap. But if people buy 4 bars or 6 bars then it’s not so bad, because you are still paying the same amount of shipping. So I’m still working to figure out the shipping.
What is your life motto?
My motto for life is, "Love God, do good, and be kind. And create joy wherever I go.” I want to always make people happier than where I found them.
Who had the biggest impact on the person you have become?
When I read that question, I was thinking about it – I know it’s kind of odd because my father was not a nice person. But my life was, "I’m going to raise my children in the exact opposite way from how my father raised me.” So in a way, my father was a big impact as to what not to be.
But there’s been different people in my life. I remember when I was a little girl, my life at home was hard. It was a hard, hard life. But there was a little man who – I grew up in Alberta so almost everybody was white – but there was a little black man at church that greeted you at the door, Mr. Cobb. And he was missing two fingers, and he would shake your hand with three fingers.
And he was so sweet, he would just love you to pieces. He would really challenge me and say, ‘Did you learn the 23rd Psalm?’ He would always challenge me, but he offered so much love and had a real impact.
And then I volunteered at a Christian kids camp when my two oldest boys were young, and I worked in the kitchen with a woman named Gertie Clark. She was really inspiring – she just loved everybody, and she did good wherever she could. I thought, ‘I want to be like that, I want to love everybody.’
If everybody loved each other – it takes so little to be kind. Or to stop for a minute and to talk to someone who seems sad. But we don’t do it! People race around everywhere.
I think that people are the most important thing, they’re God’s creation, and when people are hurting, we should be hurting.
Martin Luther King wrote an essay called the Three Dimensions of Life
, and if you ever get a chance you should read it. In there it says that if one person is hurting, we should all be hurting. We should be taking care of that person as a part of us. We’re all family. I want to do that. When I see someone hurting I feel that pain of wanting to make it better somehow. And I don’t always know how to make it better, but I’m going to try.
Sometimes it just takes a little thing. My baby brother committed suicide, and none of us knew that he was sad.
To take a couple of minutes to talk to somebody when they are looking down or when they’re sad – you could change somebody’s life.
Sometimes that’s all it takes is a kind word, or to hold somebody’s hand or to give someone a hug.
I wish people would just take that minute and slow down to encourage somebody.
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