The third annual Lunchbox Auction to raise money for the Food Bank for New York City kicked off last night with a celebrity fundraiser at Milk Studios in the Meatpacking District. Also benefiting The Lunchbox Fund of South Africa, the auction features over 77 lunchboxes custom designed by celebrities (and/or their handlers). Among the more eye catching boxes were avant-garde Chicago chef Grant Achatz's abstract deconstruction of a lunchbox, Tony Bennett's painting of a happy pooch (see below), and Michael Stipe's three lunchboxes with bronze cassettes and a camera embedded in molds of chocolate, salt and jello.

Stipe was on hand to help auction off the jello lunchbox last night, and promised to help the winner dig out the cassette tapes with his own hands. (The hands that made Murmur!) After a prolonged bidding war, chef Mario Batali won out with a bid of $20,000. Batali then helped auction off a lunchbox full of black truffles provided by chef David Chang. Raising one truffle up to his nose, he inhaled deeply and told the crowd, "If you could smell what I'm smelling you would never go to a whore house again." The lunchbox also came with a private dinner to be prepared by Chang in the winner's home; bidding peaked at $9,000. The other lunchboxes are being auctioned off online; you can place your bids until midnight on December 18th.

According to their website, Food Bank for New York City "provides food for 1.3 million New Yorkers through its network of more than 1,000 emergency and community food programs throughout the five boroughs — including soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, low-income daycare centers, Kids Cafes and senior, youth and rehabilitation centers... The Lunchbox Fund of South Africa provides impoverished children in the township schools of Soweto often their only meal of the day. Many of these children are AIDS orphans who are caring for their siblings, and whose performance at school is diminished without food. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education."