‘Solidarity instead of charity’: Parisa Mahmud raises $800 for mutual aid group by selling her photos of snowy Austin

Dex Parra

Trekking through over six inches of snow, Parisa Mahmud used her newest camera lens to capture a rare Texas sight — iconic Austin landmarks blanketed in a seemingly blissful layer of white.

In reality, the weeklong crisis in mid-February caused power outages for millions of Texans, boil water advisories and the death of 111 people according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

“A lot of people kind of just underestimated how much collective trauma there really was and they didn’t really take seriously the effects that the snowstorm had on their bodies and their minds,” government senior Mahmud said.

One week after the pipes in her home froze and drinkable water became a scarcity, Mahmud raised $800 for ATX Mental Health Fund by selling photos she captured of Austin blanketed in the snow caused by Winter Storm Uri.

“I’m very aware of how inaccessible mental health care can be and how expensive it can get,” Mahmud said. “I know specifically for students, too, cost is usually the one prohibiting factor.”

ATX Mental Health Fund, created in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a mutual aid group that provides direct cash assistance for people who can’t afford counseling and medication, or whose insurance is insufficient.

“The difference between mutual aid and other forms of charity or philanthropy is this idea of solidarity instead of charity,” organization founder Samantha Meyer said. “We are really interested in small dollar donations from community members rather than relying on big corporations.”

Meyer said Mahmud’s donation of $800 was one of the largest lump sums ever given to the mutual aid group. Mahmud said the majority of donations she received came from people buying only one or two photos for $10 or $15 each.

Mahmud donated to ATX Mental Health Fund because of her own mental health diagnoses and subsequent trauma therapy, she said. Although she remains on her parents’ insurance plan, Mahmud said she struggled to pay for counseling in college.

“I had tried for so many semesters, over and over again, to find a therapist that works with my insurance, and then I had to figure out how to pay for medication,” Mahmud said. “I shouldn’t have to be worrying about (that). All of those things should be free.”

Mahmud said she supports a legislative bill that would nationalize mental health care and make it available to everyone. Some of her customers, such as Kassandra Aleman, also believe in this initiative.

“I bought the prints (from Mahmud) because they were to benefit mental health services, and I’m a big proponent that mental health services should be free,” said Aleman, who found Mahmud’s work through Twitter. “I know that they can be very expensive even with insurance, so I knew that they were going toward a good cause.”

For Mahmud, photography was always just a hobby. It wasn’t until a moment of statewide emergency that her photographs turned into a fundraising tool to help the people around her.

“Sometimes the government doesn’t come through and doesn’t give us the support that we deserve,” Mahmud said. “Sometimes we as a community have to help each other, and we have to rally support for this community.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 30 issue of The Daily Texan