The Min­ne­so­ta Department of Education (MDE) is seek­ing spon­sors and meal sites for this year's Summer Food Service Program as part of a na­tion­al ef­fort to com­bat child­hood hun­ger.

The pro­gram, which is fund­ed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and ad­min­is­tered by the state education department, is look­ing for or­gan­i­za­tions that can pro­vide free nu­tri­tious meals to chil­dren dur­ing the sum­mer break.

"We talk a lot a­bout the achieve­ment gap here in Min­ne­so­ta, but we also have a nu­tri­tion gap," said Dar­on Korte, as­sist­ant com­mis­sion­er for the MDE. "For stu­dents who live in pov­er­ty, the only nu­tri­tious meal they're get­ting each day is the one that they get at school."

The Summer Food Service Program was de­signed to close the nu­tri­tion gap by offering free meals to chil­dren 18 and un­der and to com­muni­ty mem­bers liv­ing in pov­er­ty-stricken areas.

Last sum­mer, the state education department and more than 200 local schools and or­gan­i­za­tions band­ed to­gether to serve more than 3 mil­lion chil­dren at 930 sites — schools, li­bra­ries, church­es, rec­re­a­tion centers, camps, com­muni­ty centers and oth­er sites in low-income areas.

Cur­rent­ly, the fed­er­al pro­gram serves only 18 percent of chil­dren from low-in­come fami­lies who get free or re­duced-price meals dur­ing the school year. But state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials say they are look­ing to sur­pass that num­ber this year by tar­get­ing ru­ral areas, where hun­gry fami­lies are trav­el­ing long dis­tances to get food.

New part­ners will re­ceive train­ing, on-site lo­gis­ti­cal as­sist­ance and meal re­im­burse­ment fund­ing from the state education de­part­ment.

In­ter­est­ed or­gan­i­za­tions should e-mail the state education department at