And as more students of all income levels get free meals, the stigma associated with the meals should recede.
Janet Poppendieck, a sociologist at City University of New York and the author of "Free for All: Fixing School Food in America," said the stigma can be especially pernicious.
"It isn't just the stigma that attaches to the students; the whole program gets infected if you will," Poppendieck said. "In places where the stigma is intense students will refer it to as 'welfare food.'"
Poppendieck also said that as more students participate, the cost per meal served goes down and quality can go up. That's because fixed costs, like utility bills and salaries, stay the same but are spread out over more meals served. When told of the West Virginia bill, Poppendieck said she was amazed. She called it highly innovative.
State Superintendent Jim Phares, the former superintendent in Randolph County, said he had an epiphany when Randolph County schools had to close for 11 days following Hurricane Sandy.
"We knew it was critical to get kids back in school because they weren't eating. When they got back we were giving them seconds," Phares said. "When you see kids without the wherewithal to get food when they're not in school, who are licking their trays, you know how severe this is."
Bob Brown, coordinator of Reconnecting McDowell, said schools serve more food on Mondays and Fridays because kids come to school hungry after the weekend and then stock up before they leave for the weekend. Reconnecting McDowell aims to improve opportunities in McDowell County, one of the state's most impoverished regions.
The legislation originated in the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty which passed it unanimously. Unger said he expects the full Senate to vote on the bill Friday and he expects broad bipartisan support.
"If the money's there and the food is there, you ought to feed the child," Unger said.