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Local Hero Of The Week: Librarian By Day, Volunteering Virtuoso By Night

Local Hero Tommy Vinh Bui
(Courtesy of Tommy Vinh Bui)
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When libraries shut down as at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Temple City librarian Tommy Vinh Bui decided he wanted to take initiative amid the crisis.

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  • Our public affairs show AirTalk is spending time each week highlighting someone doing good work in their community. If you have someone you'd like to nominate, we want to hear from you >>

“There was just this general sense of wanting to be useful in the community as much as I could,” said the Los Angeles County Teen & Adult Services librarian, who lives in Pacoima.

After donating blood to the Red Cross to help with the blood shortage, he learned they needed an extra hand with delivering blood. So Bui began volunteering for the organization in the evenings, delivering convalescent plasma to hospitals around and outside of Los Angeles. He would venture as far out as Palmdale and San Diego, usually coming home at the wee hours of 3 am.

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To many Angelenos, a commute to the desert and back sounds exhausting and draining, but Bui saw a silver lining.

"It was a great opportunity to see more of the great state that we live in,” said Bui. ”And it took me every which way. And I find the work actually quite challenging and fulfilling."

Biu didn't stop there. He also lent a hand to Project Roomkey, an initiative started by the California Department of Social Services during the pandemic to provide shelter for unhoused people recovering from COVID or exposed to COVID. There, he helped vulnerable people get off the streets and find resources during his late-night shift.

Though the experiences of volunteering meant lengthy drives and long nights, the hard work was worth it for Bui.

“The thing that I took the most from the experience were the connections that I made. I met some really good people and collaborated with some really passionate and dedicated folks at Project Roomkey and they're relationships that I maintain to this day.”

His hard work hasn't gone unnoticed either.

“I suspect he'll burn out from excessive altruism pretty soon. A good egg,” said Noreen Petrichor, who nominated Bui as a local hero.

Bui's good deeds didn't just start during the pandemic, however.

Bui has been volunteering since post-graduate school, when he joined the Peace Corps and assisted in the Republic of Kazakhstan. There, he taught English at a local college in the desert, while spending the summer assisting youth with arts and crafts.

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Now the librarian hopes to share his good deeds a bit more locally.

He'll bike 345 miles from San Francisco to LA to raise money for the AIDS Foundation and the LGBTQ Foundation in Los Angeles in early June. And after that, he plans to flex his competitive running skills at the New York full marathon this coming November.

In the meantime, Bui dedicates his time to being a passionate librarian, encouraging everyone from those he volunteers with to our fellow radio host Larry Mantle to take advantage of our public libraries.

"I think each library is very reflective of the community that they serve, and usually the reference desk is staffed by dedicated and committed librarians who will get you to the services and resources that you need. We are always eager, able, and happy to help."

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