The bright-eyed, dapper television actor waited in the lobby of the Parkside Victoria Hotel to greet very important guests for his birthday party in the penthouse suite Sunday afternoon.
Yes, Kendrick Sampson, who is in town filming Gracepoint and who appears on The Vampire Diaries, invited fellow castmates and budding actors to his soirée.
But the group he was waiting for included kids and parents who take part in the Cridge Centre for the Family respite care programs. Sampson’s birthday party this year celebrated them and aimed to raise awareness and funds for Cridge programs.
Welcome, he said with hugs and handshakes to the first bunch — mostly girls — with special needs ranging from physical to developmental barriers and their families. He then escorted the excited group up to the party. “I’m blushing already,” said Zola Auld, 17, cracking up everyone in the elevator. Within minutes the top floor suite was rocking with music by jazz singer Maureen Washington and pianist Karel Roessingh. Kids ate pizza-on-a-stick and brightly coloured cupcakes from Crumsby’s while making crafts.
Sampson donned a purple wig and leopard-print fedora next to kids with rainbow and kitty-painted faces for a dress-up photo booth.
He posed for pictures, along with crew and castmates Jessica Lucas, who plays a reporter on Gracepoint and has family in Victoria, Madalyn Horcher, Virginia Kull, Alisen Down and Liz Dubney, a costumer who said she got her start in Victoria High School textile classes. A surprise guest was actor Rick Cosnett, a friend of Sampson from The Vampire Diaries who is working on the television series The Flash in Vancouver.
“I’ve done this for a few years now,” said Sampson, referring to hosting a charity event in lieu of a traditional birthday party. “I’m not a club person and have never really liked getting presents so this suits me ... and it’s very humbling.”
Sampson is originally from Houston, Texas. He moved to Los Angeles seven years ago to pursue his dreams as an actor. Then he heard a moving sermon at church, questioning the materialism around Christmas.
“That year, I decided not to do gifts,” Sampson said. Instead he helped out a local homeless shelter. “It was mind-blowing. We had a lot of fun.”
He decided to make altruism a birthday tradition. And in the years since, he has organized clothing drives for the homeless, a Haiti benefit dinner and a red carpet-themed fundraiser for seniors in independent living homes.
This year was Sampson’s first birthday (he wouldn’t say which) away from home and his first time in Canada.
“I wanted to do something anyway,” he said. He called local churches in search of an organization that helps kids and families.
“The Cridge came up the most often,” he said.
Within a week, Sampson, Cridge staff and several local sponsors had pulled together to arrange the afternoon event.
As Candace Stretch from the Cridge toasted Sampson’s birthday, she said: “He really seems to have embraced Victoria as his home for now, and we’re thankful.”
Sampson said he’s enjoying his few months of filming here, calling the capital city “beautiful and peaceful” and noting the friendly people and excellent food. The creole-inspired dishes at Nautical Nellies are a favourite. He also said he’s glad he had the opportunity to learn about the Cridge Centre and to host this event.
“It brings me joy,” he said.