CHICAGO (CBS) — Organizations that host free summer meal programs for needy children kicked off their annual effort to make sure those kids get healthy food at a time of year when they often struggle to get the nutrition they need.

Approximately 6 million free summer meals were provided to low-income children last summer, but organizers of the Summer Meals Illinois program said the meals only went to 14 percent of children eligible to receive them.

“That’s a problem, because we know if kids are hungry, they’re more prone and susceptible to health and behavioral issues. They may not start the school year ready to learn,” U.S. Department of Agriculture regional administrator Tim English said.

Kate Maeher, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said they want to get word out to more parents that help is available to feed needy children in summer, when they’re not getting free school lunches.

“There are hundreds of great sites that kids can go out to, and get a really quality nutritious meal this summer,” she said.

Wednesday’s kickoff event at Dunbar Park in Bronzeville featured face painting, games, and a healthy lunch for the hundreds of children who attended; but organizers said the message of the day was for parents.

“It’s free meals, our kids need them, and so why not have access to them?” said Joy King-Pike, director of field operations for of Share Our Strength, which runs the No Kid Hungry program.

Suzy Lee, a coordinator for No Kid Hungry Illinois, said sites where kids can get the free meals are not hard to find. Simply text FOODIL to 877877, call 800-359-2163 or visit summermealsillinois.org for a map of locations.