'Jersey Shore' Star Vinny Guadagnino on the Emotional Impact of Hurricane Sandy's Destruction (Video)
If the Jersey shore can handle four summers of hardcore partying, bar fighting and the on-again-off-again roller coaster relationship between Ronnie Ortiz-Magro and Sammi Giancola, then the iconic East Coast boardwalk can bounce back from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. In fact, the cast is making sure of it.
Members of the MTV hit series will reunite at the network’s Times Square Studio on Thursday night for a television special to raise money to reestablish Seaside Heights to its former glory, in partnership with natural disaster nonprofit organization Architecture for Humanity. Collected funds will also support the businesses and residents suffering damage in the community.
“It doesn’t do any justice really until you see it with your own eyes,” Vinny Guadagnino told The Hollywood Reporter. “The whole boardwalk is destroyed, the island is quarantined, and people can’t even get back to their houses. They evacuated with just the clothes on their back, not thinking it was gonna be that bad. Families are living on floors right now.”
To film segments that will air during the Restore the Shore fundraising effort, Vinny and some of his fellow housemates returned to the newly damaged Funtown Pier together last week.
“I went up with Snooki [Nicole Polizzi] in the helicopter -- I had seen all the helicopter footage on TV, but when we went up there and saw it firsthand, we both just immediately fell to pieces,” said executive producer SallyAnn Salsano.
“Going down the coastline and it’s just miles and miles and miles of devastation -- you see the boats inside the houses, you see the houses in the middle of the road, you see the little kids’ stuffed animals floating in the street.”
While there, they met with Danny Merk, owner of the Shore Store and the house where the cast resides each summer. The Shore Store suffered damage from the superstorm and was consequently looted in the aftermath.
“We’ve been Danny’s longest employees than anyone else in the store -- we’ve been working there for four summers now -- and we saw him react to it for the first time,” Vinny said. “It’s just crazy, seeing someone’s whole life and life’s savings and pride and joy become a pile of rubble now. It was definitely heartbreaking.”
It’s a double dose of heartache for Vinny, as Staten Island was also hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Since the storm blew over, he has been volunteering to clear out houses throughout his hometown.
“That was really heart-wrenching for me because I’m a stranger in someone else’s house; I’m wearing a mask in a house that is totally destroyed and clearing people’s basements out,” he said of Staten Island’s current condition. “People are telling me, if you find my cat, let me know because I left him behind ... And a lot of people died on Staten Island. There’s so much rubble, there’s houses in fields, and you don’t know if there’s a body under one of those roofs.”
Vinny also set up an online fundraiser to collect monetary support for the Tunnel To Towers Foundation. He offers to tweet, call and video chat with fans who donate substantial amounts.
“I’m kinda pimping myself out, but I just think that Staten Island needs attention because it’s been so devastated,” he said. “These are people’s homes, these aren’t their second homes. People have lived here for decades, all year round. It’s not good. And I’m from here, it’s my hometown, so I gotta represent.”
Vinny noted that Deena Cortese’s home was also affected badly, while Snooki relocated to her mother’s house because her own didn’t have heat for baby Lorenzo. Paul “Pauly D” DelVecchio had to pull over and sleep in his car while driving from Rhode Island to Seaside Heights, due to the subsequent Nor’Easter storm named Athena that hit a week after Hurricane Sandy.
Salsano, who initially handpicked the castmembers to resemble acquaintances from her own summertime exploits, admitted that the shocking reality of Seaside’s status still has yet to hit her.
“You think about your childhood memories and all the fun you’ve had, and then you think, 'What if they don’t rebuild? What happens if they’re not up and running by this summer?' ” she explained. “Not only do you not have a place to live, but you don’t have a place to work, so that even rebuilding your life, you don’t know how you’re gonna do that without a job. These people also need an opportunity to get back on their feet.”
The show creator salutes her cast for stepping up and calling on America to help restore the Jersey shore through the televised fundraiser.
“This is them looking out and saying: Listen, [this community] hooked us up, you guys watched the show every week and had a good time,” said Salsano. “To a lot of people, Jersey Shore was a TV show, but Jersey shore is actually a place where people live and families live. You have to remember that. There are people’s real lives at hand.”
She added: “At one point, we had eight million people watching the show. If every one of those people donated a dollar, we’d be in great shape. A city that’s given so much, we have to give back. We just have to.”
The one-hour Restore the Shore fundraiser special will air on Thursday night at 11 p.m. EST, with delayed broadcasting on PST. Musical guests include Gym Class Heroes with Oh Land and American Idol winner, Phillip Phillips.