June 19, 2009 / 2:00 PM / 10 years ago

Will recession hit Warren Buffett lunch?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Warren Buffett is again raising money for charity by auctioning a chance to dine with him, though it remains to be seen if the global recession keeps the winning bid below last year’s record $2.11 million.

U.S. Investor Warren Buffett fills a glass with Coke during a news conference in Madrid May 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

The world’s second-richest person is auctioning lunch for a 10th straight year to benefit the Glide Foundation, a nonprofit in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district that offers housing, job training, health and child care, and meals for the poor.

Last year, Zhao Danyang, who runs Hong Kong-based Pureheart China Growth Investment Fund, had the winning bid, which was more than three times the previous record $650,100.

“I would hope the same event is going to happen, but I’m not sure it’s going to,” the Rev. Cecil Williams, who founded Glide and leads its affiliated church, said in an interview. “But it is a good time for people to engage in compassion.”

Buffett in February said the economy was in a “shambles.” He is worth about $40 billion according to Forbes magazine, and built his fortune through his insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

As in recent years, the auction winner and up to seven friends may dine with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York. Buffett began donating lunches after his first wife Susan introduced him to Glide. Susan Buffett died in 2004.

This year’s auction will be held on eBay Inc’s website June 21-26. The starting bid is $25,000. Previous auctions have raised more than $4 million.

Williams, 79, said he last spoke a week ago with Buffett, who is a year younger. “He laughs a lot with me, and I like that,” he said. “He’s a very good man, he’s just good.”

This year’s auction comes as tough times strain Glide’s resources, with the number of people seeking help up 20 percent and staffing down 10 percent, Williams said.

“The economy is affecting the poor and even the middle class, and more people we see are feeling shame,” he said. “They need us to help them pick themselves up and feel that there is hope.”

Buffett has pledged much of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; editing by John Wallace

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