CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A student leader at Marshall University says college students around the state plan to not back down with keeping the Hunger-Free Campus Act on lawmaker’s agendas, and that their efforts continue to get it passed during the next 60-day legislative session.

Marshall’s Student Body President Walker Tatum told MetroNews that when the bill passed in the State Senate in February, the West Virginia Advisory Council of Students and student leaders at universities across the state who have been advocating for the bill for a while now were ecstatic, as it seemed to be gaining a lot of momentum.

Walker Tatum

Then, he said, it was the House of Delegates turn to look it over, and that’s when it failed.

However, he said while it put them all back a pace, they plan for their efforts at getting the bill to pass to eventually prevail.

“I’d say that overall it was disappointing, but at the same time, I don’t think that any of us looked at that as, you know, an opportunity to just give up,” Tatum told MetroNews.

He said the bill did however, make it to the second reading before it was put on the inactive calendar in the House, but, was never brought back to the active calendar to go back into discussion and under a vote.

Senate Bill 292, or the Hunger-Free Campus Act, would provide grants to higher education institutions to aid in alleviating food insecurity for students on campus.

Tatum said he and other student advocates of the bill are currently in discussion with different politicians to help continue to keep the bill alive and relevant, and more promising for future passage than ever before.

“You know, it’s just kind of one of those experiences where you learn, and you come back and you try to do it better than how you did it the first time, or in this case, the last three or four times,” he said.

He said they are hopeful that the next legislative session they will be able to come at it full speed ahead and get an earlier jump start to advocate for the bill’s passage.

However, Tatum said as he’s only in the student body position for just a year and is set to graduate this April, it will be up to the next class of student leaders of the institution to decide whether to tackle the efforts of continuing to get the bill pushed through.

He said, but while he will assume a different role at the university after he graduates, he will continue to support the efforts the best he can and help the new successors navigate the legislative process, as his stance on the matter is unwavering– food insecurity is a prominent issue on college campuses in the state and there needs to be support for it no matter what.

“Especially, I feel like from a state legislature who very much focuses on keeping students healthy, thriving, and in the state, because I know that retention is a large thing, but no matter what I can do moving forward in my capacity, I will continue to make sure that I speak on it as much as I can to ensure that voices are being heard,” Tatum said.

Tatum said along with having a grant program set up through the Higher Education Policy Commission to address food insecurity on campus, the bill would also allow for the opportunity for students to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding on campus, as well.

He said he and his Vice President of the student body at Marshall were already very passionate about raising awareness and the effort to combat food insecurity on their campus.

Tatum said a portion of that effort involved a survey they sent out to students to acquire some data on just how many nutritional items students were consuming in a week, how many times they were eating in a typical day, where their food was coming from, etc. He said the answers they got back were shocking and that’s when they knew something bigger needed to be done.

“I feel like everyone always knows that there is food insecurity on a college campus, but it’s not as eye-opening to know that until you’ve seen the responses from students that talk about only having a meal on Wednesdays when they wait to have dinner at their church, or students that talk about how they only ate a bag of chips during these amount of hours because they didn’t really have the money,” he said.

Tatum said not having the access to good, nutritional food on a consistent and reliable basis on campus because a student can’t afford it is an issue that affects the health of their education, or possibly, even their ability to graduate.

He said as student body leaders, the student government felt it was their duty to act as the voice for all of them, and step up and at least make the effort to provide more nutritional resources available on campus.

“You know, students do suffer from food insecurity, it’s not something that’s made up, it is something that’s prevalent on campuses, and all we were trying to do in our position was assure that we were making that forefrontly known, and also just speaking for the students,” Tatum said.

Tatum said while the bill has been presented in a few different legislative sessions now, he said having it pass in the Senate this time around was a huge milestone that takes them an even bigger step closer to bringing those resources addressing food insecurity to college campuses across the state.