Anytrea Baker served up heaping portions of smiles and encouragement along with her school cafeteria meals.
In a decade with the Minneapolis Public Schools as an onsite food service coordinator, she reveled in her role as an upbeat "lunch lady" who sought to be a friend and trusted adult.
"She totally embodied why we are here," said Omar Guevara-Soto, assistant director of the school system's food services. "Nurturing all through access to food."
Baker died Dec. 10 after a severe asthma attack. She was 45.
Most of Baker's career was spent at Bethune Community School in north Minneapolis, where she became known to multitudes of elementary school students as "Ms. A," a less-formal nickname that was easier to say than her first name, pronounced uh-NEE-tree-ah.
When the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in March, Baker began handing out boxed meals for Minneapolis families, standing for hours outside Bethune through the crisp days of spring, the heat of summer and the bluster of winter.
"It wasn't just, 'Pick up your box,' " Guevara-Soto said. "It was personalized service. She would know the families. She would know the kids by name. She took time to make sure they felt cared for and that she hadn't forgotten them."
Baker was the youngest of four children and a lifelong resident of north Minneapolis. After graduating from Patrick Henry High School, she set off for Texas College, about 90 minutes east of Dallas in the city of Tyler. It was her first experience in the South, and she returned to Minnesota after a semester. She briefly studied art, but it was food and people that held the most sway.
When her first son, Brandon, was old enough for school, she worked behind the counter at the Bean Scene, a coffee shop her mother owned at the corner of W. Broadway and N. Penn Avenue.
"She enjoyed the people," said her mother, Lynda Baker, who worked as a desegregation counselor in the Minneapolis Public Schools in the early 1970s. "She cracked jokes and she knew her coffee. She could make a latte that would make your lips quiver."
Baker later received a degree in Culinary Arts from Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and found her calling cooking and being with students.
"She didn't just work," said her cousin DaMaris Baker. "She got to do what she liked to do: cook and be around kids."
The cousins lived within blocks of Theodore Wirth Regional Park and grew up sledding and ice skating in winter and exploring trails in the summer. Born one year and one day apart, they remained inseparable as adults.
When Baker wasn't serving up meals, she volunteered for field trips with her youngest son, Adonis.
"She felt like she needed to be there for all the kids, not just hers," her cousin said. "She came up in a loving home. If she saw children who didn't have it that way, she had a soft spot for them."
Baker lived next door to the house where she was raised, and her sons grew up knowing their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. She learned to grill from her father, Roland, whose monthly gatherings over barbecue ribs are a neighborhood staple.
As the baby of the family, Baker learned to use her winning smile to get her way, her mother said, somehow wriggling out of the cooking and cleaning. She was such a cute infant, her family called her "Punkin," a sobriquet used by her close friends and family all her life.
In addition to her sons and parents, Baker is survived by siblings Roland of Minneapolis, Audrea Williams of Atlanta, and Andrea Byrd of Winston-Salem, N.C. Services have been held.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-07335