Buffett charity lunch auction opens

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 28, 2019.

Buffett says the money is desperately needed in San Francisco, the US. Photo by Bloomberg

The winning bidder gets to bring seven friends to a lunch with the famed investor at Smith & Wollensky in Manhattan, New York, the US. Photo by Reuters

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Warren Buffett has raised close to US$30 million for a San Francisco charity with 19 years of annual auctions, and he is not finished yet.

Bidding on eBay Inc’s website opened on Sunday evening in the US at US$25,000 (RM104,750) as the billionaire investor is again offering a chance to pick his brain over lunch at a New York steakhouse. The week-long auction benefits Glide, whose programmes address hunger, poverty and homelessness.

The tech boom has generated billions of dollars in personal fortunes in San Francisco and adjoining Silicon Valley, driving up living costs and contributing to a housing crisis. The city’s department of homelessness says that around 8,000 people are on the streets. Glide chief executive officer Karen Hanrahan said she is seeing longer lines of needy folks outside the charity’s doors.

“It’s not just in numbers; it’s also the changing nature of who is in our line,” Hanrahan said in a phone interview. “We see a growing number of people who have jobs and sometimes have homes but are really just hanging on by a thread.”

A surge in homelessness escalates demand for a range of services from Glide, including meals and treatment for addiction or mental health issues. Growing wealth in a major US city carries with it an increase in homelessness and inequality, Hanrahan said.

“There are some people who think if economies are growing, it’s going to lift more people up,” she said. “But the reality is that the number of people falling into poverty and unable to afford housing, food and other necessities is outstripping the number of people who might be lifted up by a growing economy.”

The 20th annual auction would need to raise around US$3.46 million to beat the record set by an anonymous bidder in 2012. The first auction brought in US$25,000 in 2000, and last year’s bidding topped out at US$3.3 million. Buffett, the chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, said the money is desperately needed in San Francisco.

“It makes a difference, and it translates into human beings finding that there is hope in life,” Buffett, 88, said in a statement. “The rest of society may have given up on them, but Glide is going to give them a chance.”

The winning bidder gets to bring seven friends to a lunch with the famed investor at Smith & Wollensky in Manhattan. The auction is set to end at 7.30pm San Francisco time on Friday. — Bloomberg