(WBRE/WYOU-TV)  Summer might be months away, but the State Department of Education is putting out a call to action – now! So they can ensure thousands of children maintain a healthy diet during the break.  Eyewitness News Education Reporter Crystal Cranmore has our story.

For hundreds of children, parks like this one have become more than just a hand out spot during the summer months.

They’ve become a lifeline for families struggling to provide nutritious meals for their children.

“During the school year, kids can get free breakfast or lunch or reduced priced meals.. and we see a huge drop off in participation during the summer.” Said Gretchen Hunt, Director of Nutrition Programs at CEO.

So summer programs are essential, according to Gretchen Hunt with the Commission on Economic Opportunity. The organization helps provide financial and administrative support to agencies like the YMCA – it provides food for low income children during their months off from school.

The State Department of Education funds these initiatives through its “Summer Food Service Pogram”.

But advocates say they are trying to reach more children.

“In the city we have more kids but we have more program sites. There is a huge need in our rural communities.” Noted Hunt.

The Department of Education *needs* more organizations like CEO to sponsor additional summer meal distribution sites across the state…Especially in those rural areas.

About 300 organizations participated last year.

Officials say only *19* out of every 100 students receiving free and reduced price lunches in Pennsylvania in 2017 accessed nutritious meals during the summer.

Leaders at CEO say they are willing to train and support anyone interested in becoming a site and ultimately closing the hunger gap.

“We feel addressing childhood hunger is critically important for our community as a whole. Not just for hunger advocates, not just for people who are interested in child health. But for our whole entire community ” Added Hunt

If you an organization in Luzerne or Wyoming County that wants and is able to provide a food distribution site this summer, you can contact CEO for assistance.

For more information on becoming a participating organization or a meal site for the summer food service program, view the website at www.Education.State.Pa.Us/sfsp or call 800.331.0129. The deadline to apply is June 15, 2017.