Bids in an annual auction of a private lunch with investor Warren Buffett to benefit the homeless were well below last year's $2.6 million winner early Friday, with just hours left before the sale closes.

The top bid early Friday was $410,200, but in past auctions, the bids didn't reach astronomical levels until close to the end.

Staff and supporters of the Glide Foundation, which uses the auction proceeds to help the homeless in San Francisco, will be watching the final bids come in at an auction party before the 9:30 p.m. CDT deadline.

The Omaha billionaire has raised more than $11.5 million for Glide over the past 13 auctions. The event provides a significant portion of Glide's roughly $17 million annual budget that pays for social services to the poor and homeless.

Buffett has supported the San Francisco organization ever since his late first wife, Susan, introduced him to Glide's founder, the Rev. Cecil Williams. Buffett says Williams is a key reason why Glide has been able to help so many people after the world had given up on them.

"He's changed thousands of lives that would not have been changed otherwise," Buffett said.

The previous four winning bids have all exceeded $2 million with records set every year. Last year's winner, Ted Weschler, paid $2,626,411.

In fact, Weschler paid nearly $5.3 million to win both the 2010 and 2011 auctions, and the hedge fund manager wound up getting hired by Buffett last year to help manage Berkshire's investment portfolio.

Buffett says he doesn't expect to find another new hire through the auction, and Weschler was unlikely to bid this year because he can now dine with his boss at any Omaha steakhouse for a much lower price than he paid in the auction.

Buffett became one of the world's richest men while building Berkshire Hathaway into a major conglomerate.

Buffett's business brilliance and remarkable record of investment success as Berkshire's chairman and chief executive is a big part of the draw for bidders although he won't talk about potential investments.

And Buffett has also made a mark on the world of philanthropy, so past winners of the lunch have also wanted to discuss giving. Buffett has slowly given away his fortune since 2006. He plans to eventually divide most of his shares of Berkshire stock between five charitable foundations, with the largest chunk going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Buffett and Gates have also been encouraging other wealthy people to give away at least half of their fortunes. Nearly 80 of the nation's wealthiest families have signed the pledge.

The auction's winners traditionally dine with Buffett at New York's Smith and Wollensky steak house. The restaurant donates at least $10,000 to Glide each year to host the auction lunch.

Past winners of the auction have said they believe the time with Buffett was well worth the price they paid in the auction. The lunches often continue for several hours as Buffett answers their questions.

Buffett says many of the questions he gets at the lunches are about nonbusiness subjects such as family and philanthropy.

Buffett's company owns roughly 80 subsidiaries including insurance, furniture, clothing, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants and natural gas and corporate jet firms, and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

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Follow Business Writer Josh Funk at www.twitter.com/funkwrite

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Online:

Buffett Lunch Auction: www.GlideLunchWithWarrenBuffett.com

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.: www.berkshirehathaway.com

Glide Foundation: www.glide.org