Auction for Warren Buffett charity lunch starts slow

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett talks to reporters prior to the Berkshire annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska May 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Jonathan Stempel (Reuters) - The annual charity auction for a private lunch with billionaire investor Warren Buffett is underway. The top bid to dine with the chairman of the conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc was $200,100 at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT) on Monday, but will likely surge by the time the auction on eBay ends on Friday night. Winning bids have reached seven figures every year since 2008, with the record $3,456,789 offer submitted anonymously in 2012. Last year's winner paid $2,345,678. Auction proceeds go to Glide, a charity in San Francisco's Tenderloin district that provides food, health care and other services to people who are homeless, poor or struggling with substance abuse. Buffett has raised about $20.2 million in 16 auctions for Glide. "Mr. Buffett has been just one of the most important people in our work," Rev. Cecil Williams, 86, Glide's co-founder and a pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, told Reuters. "If people didn't respond to places like Glide, we would be in serious trouble in urban America." Buffett, 85, is the world's third richest person, worth $66.8 billion, Forbes magazine said on Monday. He is donating virtually all of his wealth to charity. The auction was created by Buffett's first wife, Susan, and continued after her 2004 death. It began on Sunday night, and will end at 10:30 p.m. EDT Friday (0230 GMT Saturday). The winner and up to seven friends can dine with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steak house in Manhattan. Past winners have included David Einhorn, the Greenlight Capital hedge fund manager, and Ted Weschler, now a portfolio manager at Berkshire. Bids for the private lunch have stayed high even as Buffett's visibility has grown over the years, including the first-ever webcast of Berkshire's annual meeting in April. With a $17 million budget, Glide provides an estimated 750,000 free meals, 815,000 syringes, emergency shelter for 8,700 people, and day care and afterschool programs for 450 children each year. "I am proud to be part of something that has directly benefited so many people in need," Buffett said in a statement. Williams said Buffett talks with him a few times a year, about Glide and whatever else is on their minds. "It is a relationship that we have," Williams said. "He's very jovial, open and a lot of fun, but he's also very serious." According to Glide, the following are the winning bids in past auctions: 2000: Pete Budlong, $25,000 2001: Jim Halperin and Scott Tilson, $20,000 2002: Jim Halperin and Scott Tilson, $25,000 2003: David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital, $250,100 2004: Jason Choo, Singapore, $202,100 2005: Anonymous, $351,100 2006: Yongping Duan, California, $620,100 2007: Mohnish Pabrai, Guy Spier, Harina Kapoor, $650,100 2008: Zhao Danyang, Pure Heart Asset Management, China, $2,110,100 2009: Courtenay Wolfe, Salida Capital, Canada, $1,680,300 2010: Ted Weschler, $2,626,311 2011: Ted Weschler, $2,626,411 2012: Anonymous, $3,456,789 2013: Anonymous, $1,000,100 2014: Andy Chua, Singapore, $2,166,766 2015: Zhu Ye, Dalian Zeus Entertainment Co, China, $2,345,678 (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York)