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Volunteers from Jewish groups have become part of a Christmas tradition in Atlanta - filling in for non-emergency workers at hospitals who otherwise might have to work on the holiday.

The volunteer program started on a small scale in 1981 but has grown to a systemized effort involving about 500 volunteers who go to work on Christmas Day so that Christian workers may celebrate at home with their families.Members of the city's Jewish community launched the "Pinch Hitter" program when they saw that many people who wanted to be at home for the holiday had jobs that required them to work on Christmas.

"Christmas, obviously, holds little significance to the Jewish community, and here was a chance to let our Christian counterparts celebrate the holiday," said Jeff Rubin, associate publisher of The Atlanta Jewish Times, a weekly newspaper that last year became a co-sponsor of the program.

"It's an opportunity to promote brotherhood and volunteerism in the same breath," Rubin said.

Started by the Gate City Lodge of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish fraternal organization, the program had about 50 volunteers participating the first couple of years. This year, organizers are expecting about 500 people to work at nine hospitals.

The volunteers do just about any task required, Rubin said, including janitorial work, kitchen duty and assisting in non-medical patient care.