Sales of sealed communion elements soar amid swine flu pandemic

When swine flu concerns peaked in late April and early May, eChurch Depot was a busy place. The Camp Hill, Pa.-based online distributor of church supplies was rapidly selling a combination of sealed juice and individually-wrapped communion wafers. Thursday the World Health Organization declared a pandemic for swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus. While concerns among the American public seems to have declined significantly in the past month, churches don’t seem to be taking any chances. June sales of the juice and wrapped wafer are between three and four times of what they were this month a year ago, eChurch Depot CFO and co-owner Doug Waardenburg said Friday. “There really has been nothing else that we have as a food item that people would pass and share that we’ve seen a similar increase in sales for,” Waardenburg said. Keeping the item in stock has been challenging for the business. “We were just talking today about keeping it in stock and staying ahead of the curve,” he said. “We’ve certainly seen an increase in the number of churches that have made the purchase, especially large churches.” Waardenburg added he doesn’t think eChurch Depot is necessarily benefitting from heightened health concerns, but rather a shift in what clients are looking for. “I some ways I see this as a transfer of sales,” he said. “A lot of people buy communion wafers from us already. They’re just doing it differently, so I don’t see it as us profiting from a difficult situation or anything like that. “In one sense I’m glad we are able to offer a product that makes it more comfortable to take communion and may take some of the concern away. That’s a good thing.” eChurch Depot doesn’t have a big international sales base other than some to Canada, he said. Some Canadians are unimpressed by the pandemic status. “I think it’s an irresponsible and indefensible decision on their part,” Ontario’s former chief medical officer Richard Schabas told United Press International (UPI). “A pandemic is supposed to be a virus that causes attack rates of 25 percent to 35 percent of the population. It’s supposed to cause high levels of pneumonia and serious infection, it’s supposed to cause tens of thousands of deaths in individual countries worldwide. That just isn’t happening.” Around the world there have been about 28,000 confirmed cases of H1N1 in 74 countries, with 141 deaths according to the WHO report. However, those numbers aren’t distributed evenly around the globe. The Indian Catholic reported a Catholic high school in Hong Kong closed when 12 students were diagnosed with H1N1. Elsewhere in South Asia, Catholic high schools and colleges in the Thai capital Bangkok are closing next week because of a swine flu outbreak, according to the Union of Catholic Asian News.

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